Previous Fora / 2003

Farewell address by E. Sylvester Vizi

World Science Forum

10 November 2003

E. Sylvester Vizi

Farewell address


Your Excellencies! Ladies & Gentlemen!

During the Forum I was asked several times what WSF was good for.

When Benjamin Franklin was asked about what his invention, the lightning rod was good for he answered with another question: What is a newborn baby for? Here we have, Ladies and Gentlemen, a newborn baby whose name is World Science Forum. We have to feed it and we have to bring it up. Our newborn baby has a nice birth weight: it has been attended by more than 500 people including scientists, decision makers, politicians, laymen and artists. Who are the parents? I think the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, with the godfatherly help of the Hungarian Government and you including the European Union, UNESCO, ICSU and other organizations. We have worked very hard and I think it is right to say that we have fulfilled the expectations and we have amply discussed the relationship between knowledge, science, society, and the economy. We have tried to raise several questions and we have tried to find the answers. In today's economy, neither natural resources, cheap labour, nor capital stock are as important to the economy as innovation built on new ideas and new knowledge.

The general public has long been divided into two parts: those who think science can do anything, and those who are afraid it can. Why, they ask, should we invest in space research when its benefits, if any, will not be immediately available? Why should we explore the human genome? No doubt, there is a misunderstanding of the role of science in technological development. This misunderstanding provokes these questions. What makes most people concerned angry, glad, proud and the like? It is because they think that there are values at stake here. Therefore, we must carry on a dialogue with the public. We have to develop a sustained dialogue with the public as they are key stakeholders in science.

Taxpayers often do not notice that our everyday lives are overwhelmingly dominated by techniques and instruments discovered and developed by scientists, e.g. electricity, radio, telephone, synthetic materials, fax, television, computers, jet planes, satellites, antibiotics, to name just a few. Perhaps if it was made clear how our lifestyles today depend on the scientific advances of yesterday, there would be less opposition to investment in basic science today for the societies of tomorrow.

One of the most important outcomes of this Forum is that we have come to the conclusion that we all including scientists and politicians are responsible for the future of mankind. No doubt, the responsibility of the scientist is increasingly important in the 21st century. Scientists of today and of tomorrow must have the freedom to study what they want; they must have the right to publish what they have discovered and what they think, but they also must be obliged to do science in the interests of humankind and its environment, thus ensuring the dominance of good over evil.

Parliaments and lawmakers have also their own peculiar responsibility: they must terminate the improper use of scientific discoveries. This is one of our aims - and this is a must.

The UN predicts that the world's population will increase to 9 billion over the next 50 years. The challenge is therefore to produce much more without at the same time putting a pressure on global resources. But it is also true that without economic growth, i.e. without science it will not be possible to reduce poverty in the world and implement the necessary environmental improvements. It is the responsibility of scientists, decision-makers and CEOs what will happen in the future.

Since there have been so many participants including the Hungarian Prime Minister who suggested that we ought to continue this Forum, because not only the public but also intellectuals such as scientists and politicians and artists need this dialogue in order to help each country, rich and poor in the North and South, all over the world, in view of the promise of the Hungarian Government, the Hungarian Prime Minister, His Excellency Mr. Peter Medgyessy may I declare that the Hungarian Academy of Sciences will organize the next World Science Forum within two years. So be it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thanks for coming and attending this meeting and I would like to express my thanks to the Hungarian Government and the organizers who have made this meeting successful, who have done a wonderful job. Let us meet again in two years in Budapest. Thank you. See you again, Auf Wiedersehen, Au revoir, Szajonara, Tot ziens, Arrivederci, Hej da, Hasta la vista,