Are scientists ready to shed their old habits?

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


This morning, I heard policy experts highlight the need to do science differently and enter into new dialogues with social scientists and local communities to make a dent in research on sustainable development. All very well, but are scientists willing to shed their old habits?

Diana Liverman, co-director of Institute of the Earth, University of Arizona, and co-chair of the International Council for Science (ICSU)’s transition team to oversee a new 10-year research initiative on global sustainable development, reminded the morning session of the need to look for new partnerships between science and society to find transformative pathways towards sustainable development.

Lidia Brito
Flickr/PUC-Rio+20

And Lidia Brito, director of science policy and capacity, UNESCO, said: “We need a more interactive mechanism between the scientific community and stakeholders”.

Brito highlighted the need for a new approach to research that is more integrative, inter-disciplinary, solutions-oriented, linked to high-efficiency, and policy-relevant.

Then a delegate from Japan described how the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant explosion, following the killer quake and tsunami, created high levels of mistrust of scientists among the public.  Japan’s ministry of science had to form an advisory board and change evaluation methods in the science and social science sectors.

“Assistance for integrated research (between scientists and social scientists) is very difficult. Why don’t we include stakeholders assessment of scientific research?” he asked the speakers.

While Japan seems to have introspected deeply, I can’t say that about scientists of the sub-continent.

I don’t see that kind of interactive dialogue between nuclear scientists and opponents of a controversial new nuclear plant at Jaitapur, India, bang amidst a biodiversity hotspot along India’s western coast. No amount of local protests have worked.

What’s worse, the Indian government dismissed local fishermen’s protests against a Russian nuclear power plant at Koodankulam in southern India as instigated by foreign, largely US-based non-government organisations.

There seems to be some uphill task ahead…

This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development blog which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

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