"What Drives Change?" – Plenary Session     18.11.2011

On the second day of WSF 2011 a special plenary session was devoted to the factors driving changes in the ”landscape of science”. The session was chaired by EASAC’s president and former Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society Sir Brian Heap.

Ms Anna Lee Saxenian, Dean of the Berkeley School of Information attributed many of those changes to an increased mobility of talent worldwide. In the US the number of foreign-born S and T doctors had tripled between 1978 and 2008 – telling a lot about the global brain drain benefiting US science and technology. Also, the present ratio of a foreign-born workforce in Silicon Valley is a staggering 53 per cent comprising of not only Asians but also Europeans.

Wolf Prize Laureate President of the Israeli Academy of Sciences Ms Ruth Arnon was the next to speak. She said that her institution is considered public treasure by the Israeli public; in return, researchers fully acknowledge that their work should have public relevance, e.g. it should reach the government in the form of evidence-based advice ahead of major economic or social changes. Support for Israeli science is a staggering yearly 4-5 per cent of the GDP – although mostly coming from industry rather than the government.

Head of the Chinese Academy’s Water Research Centre Mr Jun Xia were talking about the changes in the present and future supply of water across China. The Centre studies not only the wild alternations of floods and droughts but also the quality of the water which Chinese people can use at all. With the country’s population growing rapidly in the next decades, the amount of usable water per person is expected to decrease sharply. The main remedies seem to be: ways of „harvesting” (storing) the water produced by storms; re-cycling water once used; and de-salinating seawater. Fortunately, the last mentioned remedy costs less and less each year.

Probably the most thought-provoking presentation was held by Harvard University professor Mr Ricardo Hausmann who started out by claiming that what makes societies affluent is their ability to make new and better products what they develop rather than their large stocks of natural resources. Modern people are useless as individuals, but taken together we are very effective if we take advantage of the productive knowledge our societies have accumulated.

The next speaker was the Austrian scientist Mr Wolfgang Burtscher, who has personal experience with the EU’s Framework Programmes as Director-General for Research and Innovation at the European Commission. He reported that more and more of the researchers supported by the Framework Programme have chosen as partners from emerging economies. He emphasized that the 80 billion euros allocated to the 2014-2020 period must target more inclusive, more innovative, and more secure societies across Europe.

Former President of the German Academy Leopoldina, Mr Volker ter Meulen was the last to speak. He elaborated the ways in which national “learned societies” were in fact international by virtue of their work proceeding under international influences, and also because it was carried out in international networks. Mr ter Meulen concluded his presentation by saying that the international aim of giving evidence-based advice to government policies translated excellently not only to international endeavours but also to national objectives.  


You can find more details on this session here.