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Role of Scientific Foundations in
Support of World Science

Minsk (Belarus) 3–5 September 1997

International Seminar

Contents
Discussion
Recommendations
Contacts

Discussion    Back to top

The 20th century will go down in history as one of great scientific discoveries and their mass use in the life of all countries and peoples. The exact, natural and engineering sciences have given humankind a powerful impetus to develop its material culture. Unfortunately, the 20th century has also been a period of unprecedented social, technological and ecological catastrophes. Humankind has come close to stepping over a dangerous line and thereby upsetting once and for all the ecological balance between the biosphere and the ‘technosphere’ of our planet, the lowering of the living standards of a considerable part of the population and gradual deterioration of the ‘technosphere’ (i.e. the problem of waste disposal is exacerbated by the rapid turnover in technology and rampant consumerism).

The terrible dangers awaiting humankind in the 21st century have resulted from unreasonable use by governments, industries and the public of achievements in the natural and engineering sciences. For example, the successes of scientists in the field of medicine and biotechnologies, which provided human beings with effective protection from many diseases and from elementary malnutrition were not accompanied by adequate successes in socio-demographic policy. This has led to a practically uncontrolled increase in the population size of a number of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The dangerously high levels of accumulated nuclear, chemical and bacteriological weapons that saw the light of day as a result of achievements in the fundamental sciences – physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology – remain and the negative impact on the environment of military operations and exercises has dangerous consequences.

The unreasonable use of the achievements of science and technology compels scientists throughout the world to give ever-more consideration to the imperfection of the social nature of the society in which they live. There is every indication of a systemic crisis in the development of civilization on our planet, of a threat to the sustainable development of humanity. Therefore, representatives of various fields of science often come to the conclusion that, along with the all-round development of natural and engineering sciences, it is necessary to give due consideration to the development of the human and social sciences as well.

Participants in the seminar consider the following measures essential to achieve sustainable development:

Recommendations    Back to top

The 21st century should become one of interdisciplinary knowledge.    Back to top

The strategy for overcoming the crisis in the development of human civilization calls for a change in people’s behaviour. This is impossible without a thorough and systematic study of the laws governing societal development in interaction with the natural (nature) and artificial (technology) environment. Therefore,

  • governments should commit themselves to supporting first of all basic and applied knowledge in the field of interdisciplinary investigations with the use of methods of the natural and engineering sciences, and of the social and human sciences.

To change a society, it is necessary to change the system of education in the society.    Back to top

Sustainable development of humankind can be favoured by a system of education, the components of which would become humanist, and ecological knowledge resulting from fundamental and applied research. It is desirable that:

  • national governments offer financial support to university courses and the compiling of textbooks in the human and social sciences and on ecological topics.

Science should be recognized not only as a major productive component of society but also as one of the key components of its social life and culture.    Back to top

The fact that the human and social sciences form part of our culture is generally accepted. However, it is not as widely believed that natural and engineering sciences are also part of our universal culture. Nevertheless, the human and social sciences and natural and engineering sciences, as a whole, are the main product of development in each country. This is why their all-round development, provision of integrity of education in science, technology and the human and social sciences in schools and universities would help preserve the diversity of national culture, which is a safeguard against mass culture. To do this,

  • national governments, universities and other educational establishments should pay due attention to the necessity of timely informing of wide sectors of the population about the latest achievements in natural and engineering sciences and in the human and social sciences.

Fierce competition between countries and regions of the world in the field
of human intelligence should give way to all-embracing intellectual co-operation.
   Back to top

Most developed countries of the world allocate many more funds to science per capita than could manage the developing countries. National systems of science and education were formed depending on the existing financial possibilities of each country and historical peculiarities of their development. For instance, in Central and Eastern European countries, fundamental sciences have been developing over the last 30–60 years in two areas: national academies of sciences and universities. Today, attempts of most developed countries around the world to incorporate Central and Eastern European countries (CEE countries) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) into their university systems of fundamental research which do not take into account the organization of research that has existed in these countries could have a pernicious effect on the development of both education systems and science by introducing elements of instability into their functioning at the stage of reform. The fact should be taken into account that the former member countries of the Council for Economic Assistance (CEA) were comparable in the number of researchers to the members countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Under transition, the science sector in CIS and CEE countries are experiencing serious difficulties, first of all due to the sharp reduction in financial support. A sharp reduction in the scientific potential of these countries could have a negative effect on the development of universal science.

The collapse of the traditional system of organizing scientific research in the CEE countries and in the CIS could cause ‘white spots’ on the world scientific map, which would inevitably reduce the world intellectual potential. To avoid this:

  • it is desirable that the governments and scientists of developed countries transform their strategy of interaction with science in CEE countries and the CIS so that it provides a wider access to scientists from countries in transition to competitive allocation of support from different science foundations. This would be mutually beneficial: Eastern Europe would receive the required financial resources for preserving its intellectual potential and world science would acquire one more source of reliable information in the form of results of investigations carried out by scientists of the Eastern European countries.

Research grants should be allocated by numerous science foundations with regard to global problems facing humankind.    Back to top

The distribution of grants to support research is carried out taking into account most differing, sometimes contradictory, criteria. Many of them are oriented, in one way or another, toward the preservation of the already existing paradigms in which the leading position is occupied by the natural sciences. Nevertheless, overcoming the existing prerequisites for a crisis in the development of civilization is impossible without the proper development of the human and social sciences, as also without investigations in the field of environmental protection. Therefore, the administration of science foundations should make amendments to the system of project assessment and selection criteria for financing these projects with regard to the five present recommendations.

 

Contacts    Back to top
For further information, please contact: voitovich@presidium.bas.net.by

 

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