SCIENTIST AS GLOBAL CITIZEN
to the President for Science and Technology and Director, Office of Science and
Conference on Science
Delivered by Bruce Alberts President, National Academy of Sciences)
Neal Lane wanted me to say at the start that it was a great honor for him
to be one of the opening speakers at this conference.
By bringing together thousands of scientists and policymakers, this
meeting provides a compelling demonstration of both the scope and the importance
of scientific knowledge. We are all
privileged to be at the center of an activity that will have such a profound
influence on humanity's future.
And we are fortunate to be working in science and technology during this
exciting time of ferment, progress, and change.
to the future, we see that we have a busy agenda ahead of us.
We must coordinate research projects that are global in scale.
We must choose, from an ever-widening array of possible projects, those
that have the greatest potential scientific returns.
We must ensure that scientists everywhere on the planet are able to
contribute effectively to problems that will require all of the effort we can
growth of scientific knowledge is certain to be the single most influential
force of the next 100 years, as it has been for the past 100 years.
We cannot predict how science will continue to change the
but it will change it profoundly. We
can only lament, as did the American Benjamin Franklin 200 years ago, that we
will not be here a century from today to see the wonders that science has
implications of science for society go well beyond the results of research. We can learn much about 21st century society by examining the
nature of science. We also can
predict that the links between science and society will become tighter and more
critical aspect of this close relationship between science and society is the
increasing role for what Neal Lane has
termed "global citizen scientists."
Our social institutions have an increasing need for individuals who can
stand at the interface between new knowledge on the one hand, and major national
and international societal needs on the other hand, and act as a channel to pass
information in both directions between them.
These individuals have responsibilities that extend both internally to
the scientific community and externally to the broader society.
There are two social trends that are generating the need for global
citizen scientists. The first trend is the advent of a global, information-based
economy, and the second is the growing internationalization of science itself.
the second half of the 20th century, the industrialized societies have been
undergoing a transformation so profound that some have labeled it the third
major revolution in human history: after
the development of agriculture, and then the industrial revolution.
This transformation has many aspects, some of which are scientific, some
technological, and some purely cultural. But
the driving force behind many of these changes is the transition from societies
based on tangible resources to societies based on knowledge.
For the past several centuries, the modern world has been organized
around resources, such as land, fossil fuels, heavy industry, or armaments.
These resources will remain important in the 21st century, just as the
industrial revolution did not diminish the importance of agriculture.
But the most valuable resource of the 21st century will not be a tangible
object. It will be knowledge - along with the educated and well trained people who can take advantage of that
knowledge - in short, people who can think!
Knowledge differs in a fundamental way from conventional resources.
Physical resources are inherently limited.
And their distribution is a limited-sum game.
In contrast, the distribution of knowledge is an unlimited-sum game.
Knowledge can be reproduced at virtually no cost.
The pursuit of knowledge is self-catalytic:
knowledge generates more knowledge in an exponentially increasing,
The shift toward a knowledge-based economy has revolutionary implications
for national governments. Consider
foreign policy. Diplomacy changes
in fundamental ways when information from CNN television reaches policymakers
and the public in real time, or when industrial competition rivals military
competition as a determinant of national power.
The foreign affairs agencies and ministries of countries around the world
now face the formidable task of reinventing themselves for the information age.
The ground rules for governments as a whole have changed.
Nongovernmental organizations now have budgets in the billions of dollars
and deliver more official developmental assistance than does the United Nations.
They are active partners in international negotiations over such crucial
issues as the global environment, the delivery of health care, and debt
The fundamental relations among governments are themselves being
transformed by the advent of the information age.
North-South relations typically have been dominated by considerations of
natural resources. In the 21st
century, issues affecting the flow of knowledge among industrialized and
developing nations will take center stage.
Science has in many ways been the instigator of these changes, yet it,
too, is being substantially altered by the growing role of information in modern
These trends call for an increased involvement by global
In recent years, Neal Lane has become famous among U.S. scientists and
engineers for his focus on the need for scientists to use their technical
knowledge to help address societal objectives.
In their new capacity of "civic scientist," scientists and
engineers must step outside of their campuses, laboratories, and institutes to
engage in an active dialogue with their fellow citizens.
They must learn about the many ways in which technical knowledge is used
in the broader society and discuss with their fellow citizens the issues that
are critical to the future.
Of course, this does not mean that, researchers should reduce their
efforts to identify and probe the seminal scientific and technical questions,
wherever they may lead. The history
of science demonstrates the enormous benefits that scientific knowledge can
deliver to society, very often in completely unanticipated ways.
As a global scientific community, we must maintain a strong and balanced
research effort to push forward the frontiers of fundamental knowledge wherever
we can. Only in that way will we
make the great discoveries and advances that enrich our culture, and that will
ultimately lead to a healthier and more prosperous life for all inhabitants of
But science has become so integrated into the rest of society that
scientists must also look beyond the intriguing research questions, into
questions that examine the ways in which new scientific knowledge may be most
effectively used in society.
Engaging in a dialogue with the public involves listening as well as
speaking. There is a great need for
the public to have a better understanding of science.
But there is an equally great need for scientists to have a better
understanding of the public.
It is particularly important that this dialogue with scientists extend to
policymakers. Scientists traditionally have served as advisors to
policymakers, providing input as needed to policy decisions.
Now the flow of information in the opposite direction must intensify.
Scientists must listen carefully to the needs expressed by policymakers
and work creatively and energetically to meet those needs.
When Neal Lane makes this argument to U.S. audiences, the implied context
is typically local, regional, and national.
He urges scientists and engineers to get involved in societal issues in
their communities, in their states, or at the national level.
But the case for the civic scientist applies just as forcefully at the
Of course, science has always been among the most international of human
activities. The Russian writer and physician Anton Chekhov made this
point when he observed: "There
is no national science just as there is no national multiplication table."
Similarly, the statutes of the International Council for Science call
upon the organization to "observe and actively uphold the principle of the
universality of science."
In recent decades, this international character of science has become
institutionalized in common practice. The
percentage of papers with authors from more than one country has steadily grown.
Scientific meetings draw attendees from around the world.
The growing sophistication of the scientific communities in many
countries has diversified and strengthened our mutual pursuits.
This will only continue.
Modern communications have been both a tool and a catalyst in this
internationalization of science. The
Internet now makes it as easy to communicate with someone on the other side of
the world as with someone across
the hall. The international
scientific community has become what Marshall McLuhan termed a global village. The consequences of this rapid communication and sharing of
ideas are not only scientific; they are social and cultural as well.
A second factor contributing to the internationalization of science is
the increasing number of fundamental scientific challenges that are either too
complex or too resource-intensive for any one nation - or those that are
intrinsically global in scope and importance.
There are many such areas of investigation, from the Human Genome
Project, to global change research to elementary particle physics.
Neal Lane wanted to mention one with which he has had some recent
experience. Since 1995 UNESCO has
provided critical financial support for the formation and conceptual design of
the Pierre Auger project, which consists of a pair of observatories dedicated to
determining the origins of the highest-energy cosmic rays that strike the Earth.
These cosmic rays are among of the most mysterious phenomena in nature.
An observatory now under construction in Argentina, which is arranged in
a grid 10 times the size of Paris, will record the so called air
"showers" caused by the entry of these high-energy particles into the
atmosphere. A second observatory,
to be built at a location yet to be determined, will allow studies of cosmic
rays that strike the Northern Hemisphere. To
date, this project has involved more than 250 scientists from almost 20
countries. It is an excellent
example of the kinds of collaborative efforts that organizations like UNESCO and
ICSU can generate.
A third factor behind the internationalization of science is the
emergence of issues with dire societal consequences that transcend national
boundaries. These include climatic disruption, loss of biodiversity, the
degradation of marine environments, the emergence of new infectious diseases,
the proliferation of nuclear materials, and international trafficking in
Several remarkable statistics help to convey the magnitude of these
problems. Between one-third and
one-half of the land surface of the Earth has been transformed by human action.
More than half
of all the accessible fresh water on the planet is now put to use by humans. Two-thirds of our major marine fisheries are fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted.
The practical importance of these problems does not
make the science involved in addressing them less challenging or
less intellectually stimulating. On
the contrary, these problems with profound societal relevance have become the
focal points around which much of today's most exciting research is arrayed - issues such as global climate change, industrial ecology, and the properties of
complex computer networks.
We need also to emphasize what I believe is the greatest problem we face
- the remaining and, in many cases, the growing inequities within and among
nations. This is the point made so
well today by both Dr. Vargas and Dr. Swaminathan.
Pervasive poverty degrades the dignity of all of us, no matter where it
occurs, - North, South, East, or West. There
is a global imperative to close the widening gap between the haves and have-nots
in the world - not through hand-outs, but through building knowledge, and very
importantly the capacity to use it.
The two trends that I have described -- the advent of an
information-based economy, and the growing internationalization of science --
reflect and reinforce each other. In
turn, these two trends have created new roles and responsibilities for
scientists and engineers.
These responsibilities are of two types, which I characterized earlier as
looking inward toward the rest of the scientific community and looking outward
toward the broader society.
With regard to the first - those directed toward the scientific
community - scientists have long appreciated the importance of maintaining
strong domestic science and technology bases.
Furthermore, they recognize that advances by one research group or in one
discipline contribute to the progress of other groups or disciplines, so that
strengths in any strengthen the whole enterprise.
With the rapid internationalization of science, the same arguments apply
just as forcefully on a global scale. By helping science anywhere, scientists strengthen science
This win-win characteristic of modern science is a consequence of the
cumulative nature of scientific knowledge.
Science has undergone incredible growth over the past half-century.
More than 80 percent of all the scientists who have ever lived are alive
at this moment. Of all the science
ever performed in human history, most has been done by people who are alive
This growth of the scientific community has produced a tremendous
quickening of scientific thought. Advances
anywhere in the world race along formal and informal lines of communication,
speeding the generation of more knowledge.
Strengthening the worldwide scientific community is therefore to the
advantage of all scientists.
There are many possible ways for scientists to strengthen the
international scientific community. For
example, the U.S. government manages approximately 33 bilateral science and
technology "umbrella agreements" with other nations.
Under these umbrella agreements are hundreds of implementing agreements
between U.S. technical agencies and their counterparts in those countries.
By engaging in collaborative efforts under these agreements, scientists
advance their own research programs, while also contributing to the
infrastructure of international cooperation.
These international collaborations have many other benefits.
example, they have proven to be an extremely valuable tool for engaging with
former Warsaw Pact countries at the end of the Cold War. Based on the success of those agreements, the United States
is pursuing similar cooperative efforts with other countries in transition,
including Russia and South Africa.
The internal responsibilities toward the scientific community that I have
been discussing are important, but the responsibilities of scientists do not
The major problems facing our global society
- such as poverty,
environmental degradation, disease, and sustainable energy production - are
complex human problems. None of
these problems will be solved solely with science and engineering.
But none will be solved without
science and engineering.
There are many examples of the ways in which scientists and engineers
have stepped up and begun to grapple with these questions, and I'll cite just a
few. For example, President
Advisors on Science and Technology called by its initials, PCAST - has taken
on a number of crucial international issues.
In one such recent effort, they looked at energy R&D with
particularly high payoffs to future society.
As the world moves toward competitive energy markets, it is important for
governments to build mechanisms into these markets that can advance public
benefits. For example, the PCAST
report encouraged increased collaboration with developing countries on
technology and environment issues, international demonstration and
commercialization activities, and support for equitable access to energy
Neal Lane also wanted to emphasize the good example set by the
scientists, engineers, and policymakers who are attending this meeting.
We are here to strengthen existing mechanisms of cooperation in science,
as well as between scientists and policymakers, and to create new mechanisms
that will address both national and international needs.
There are few more important tasks in our interconnected world.
The years ahead will see many new and exciting ways in which scientists
can contribute to this task.
For one, scientists have an opportunity and a responsibility to become
much more engaged in foreign affairs. As
I mentioned earlier, traditional diplomacy faces great challenges in adapting to
a networked world. By working with
or within foreign service agencies, scientists can help them make the
transitions needed to deal with our new knowledge-based global system.
Finally, scientists have many new roles to play in education.
Fostering a continued, lifelong engagement in science and technology
among citizens of all ages is a challenge that both Neal Lane and I are
addressing in the U.S. But all
countries need to build a cadre of well-trained scientists and engineers who can
work at the frontiers of science and its applications.
And all countries need to foster public understanding of science and
technology so that people support and can take advantage of the products of new
knowledge. As with science, itself,
excellence in science education should know no national boundaries. There is much here also that we all need to begin to share.
Let me end by admitting that the world today faces great challenges - as severe as any that human beings have ever faced.
scientists could declare the task of solving these problems too great, too
complex, and thus impossible. We
could then go back to focusing exclusively on our narrow scientific concerns.
But I would draw a parallel with the founding of the United Nations.
There were some who said it could not be done and should therefore not be
attempted. But there were many more
who said, "This will not be easy, but we cannot risk not trying."
It is certain that our responsibilities extend beyond the world of
science. We are the ones who will
help determine the ways in which new knowledge intersects with societal goals
and values. We are the ones who can stand at the crossroads of human
knowledge and human needs, and help our world chart the course ahead.
This is a challenging task, but also a necessary and an important one.
Science has been a great source for good in our world.
It had an important role in my country's own Revolution, through which
we won our independence. One of the
architects of the United States government, and our third President, was Thomas
Jefferson, who - as many of you know - was a practicing scientist.
believe that people all over the world - not just Americans -- can look up to
Jefferson as a model of the civic scientist.
Jefferson loved scientific inquiry, and he made it a practice to carry in
his pockets some of the scientific tools of his day - thermometer, surveying
compass, magnifying glass, even a small globe.
he coupled his love of science with a passion for freedom and human rights, and
it is for these activities that he is famous today.
In fact, Jefferson saw a link - not a contradiction - between the two
main pursuits of his life. He
wrote, "The main object of all science is the freedom and happiness of
man." It is our responsibility to continue to strive for
Jefferson's noble goal.
you for the privilege of being able to address this great conference.