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Scientists’ responsibility for global futures

COVID-19 has been a stress test for our globalized society. The results, thus far, have not been encouraging. While responses and outcomes have varied across regions and countries, the pandemic has also revealed severe weaknesses in coordination at all scales, from local and regional to national and global. In a new perspective piece for AAAS's Science and Diplomacy, KLI scientific director Guido Caniglia and coauthors call for a new convention for science diplomacy.

The urgent task is to (re)build a framework for coordination and to regain the trust needed for it to work effectively. Science is an essential part of this system, not only because of what it does, but also how it does it. Despite all its inadequacies, such as the biases and structural inequalities which pervade academia, science operates as a globally coordinated, adaptive, and collaborative system of knowledge exchange and generation. All of this makes science and science diplomacy a central pillar and excellent example of the required coordination structure for global futures.

Our view of the role of science and science diplomacy is rooted in our understanding of the evolution of complex systems. These systems, including social systems, are the product of co-evolutionary dynamics that include both adaptive processes and larger transformations or evolutionary transitions. An understanding of such processes is essential for designing adequate regulatory and governance structures that can contribute to rebuilding trust and create more collaborative processes across differences and inequalities within and between our societies.

Co-evolutionary dynamics have built existing structures over long time spans. Our task is more urgent. We call for a new convention for science diplomacy that will support the development of a distributed regulatory regime starting from a new understanding of the role of scientists in society and from new approaches to train the next generation of scientist diplomats to fulfill this role more effectively. Future science diplomats will have to:

  • go beyond disciplinary research that separates and causes misunderstanding among different knowledge fields,
  • be able to cope with complex real-world problems with incomplete knowledge
  • work with the aforementioned system structures locally and globally, and
  • integrate knowledge from various scientific disciplines and societal sectors in order to act as honest brokers in decision-making processes.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of scientific expertise and the challenges scientists face in contributing to complex decisions. For science to contribute to these challenges, scientific institutions will have to rethink their mode of operation and accept diplomacy as an essential aspect of their societal role.

It will be especially important to increase awareness of existing inequalities and empower underrepresented groups in academia, such as people of color or ethnic and gender minorities, to raise their voices and lead the way. This will require changing the professional ethos and practices as well as educational strategies to include inter- and transdisciplinary approaches; a deeper awareness of equity, diversity, and justice issues; and a willingness to engage with the challenges of global futures.

Read the full text here. Authored by Guido Caniglia, Lukas Zenk, Eva Schernhammer, Martin Bertau, Gerald Steiner, Martin Kainz, Carlo Jaeger, Peter Schlosser, Manfred D. Laubichler 01/22/2021