Listening to scientists towards improving development policies

Sunday, 2018-05-20 07:11:28
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The world's leading scientists at the 14th Meeting Vietnam programme in Quy Nhon city, Binh Dinh province, May 2018. (Photo: NDO)
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NDO – Do you think the meltdown of the Himalayas, rising sea levels, or global nuclear weapon prohibition are strange stories that are unrelated to our lives? If you listen to what scientists say and believe in them, the stories will be completely different.

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It is always acknowledged that the results of scientific research are important and useful for society. However, scientists often don’t have the opportunity to participate in discussions to address major issues and rarely have a say in policy development.

Prof. Tran Thanh Van, the founder of the scientific association called ‘Rencontres du Vietnam’ (Meeting Vietnam), said that, to solve this problem, it is necessary to establish a bridge connecting scientists, politicians, diplomats, businessmen and policymakers. Since his association’s inception in 1993, Van has brought thousands of famous scientists to Vietnam from around the world over the past few years.

An international scientific conference entitled "Science for Development" was held earlier this month in Quy Nhon city, Binh Dinh province, as part of the 14th Meeting Vietnam programme. The event was considered as a practical and long-lasting bridge for connections.

At the international workshop, scientists came together to share their experience in their countries on the issues raised through questions such as: at what level can scientists make an early intervention on policy-makers' decision-making processes regarding important social measures? Or how should scientists provide more complete information on the fourth Industrial Revolutionary? What are the positive effects and risks that it can bring to the future of humanity? And how does science, based on its research and findings, contribute to promoting dialogue and peace, in order to be able to influence development?

Gerard't Hooft, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist in 1999, put forward a message which stressed the importance of education in bringing science closer to social development policies. Starting with education is the only way to build up and develop the foundation for science, while creating the right understanding and attitudes towards science.

Although Hooft’s research activities are only in the field of theoretical physics, he stated that theory is not a repetition of what has taken place in the past but must be drawn from scientific experiments. He said he was always amazed at the results from the laboratories. Any place in the world can build a lab but in order to have good laboratories, there must be professional people and nothing is better for such good staff than a good educational foundation.

Many scientific events took place at the 14th Meeting Vietnam programme this year. (Photo: NDO)

Scientist Frederick Bordry, from the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), said that science advances the boundaries of understanding, and science is beyond the boundaries of nations to reach the global arena. Science has a clear goal, aiming to promote health and education and raise the living standard for people. For that reason, he also praised the provision of scientific training for children. According to him, the purpose of scientific research is ultimately for peace and development.

Professor Finn Kydland, a co-recipient of the 2004 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, shared the same view with Bordry when stating that research has showed that children need to be provided with early access to science. The issue is related to social policy: in countries where children have better conditions of care and good health, they will better absorb education. As a circular movement, when studying inequality in incomes in countries around the world, Kydland found that low-income countries are less developed nations. This issue is also sourced from policy: the more stable the policy, the more investment and social welfare there will be. Institutional instability and a lack of transparency often have a negative impact on economic development. In countries with a low level of GDP, children naturally have little access to good care and education.

One of the most important functions of scientific research is to provide warnings. However, not only in underdeveloped countries or developing countries, even in developed countries, the voices of scientists are rarely heard. According to Annick Suzor-Weiner, Emeritus Professor at the University of Paris-Sud (Paris 11), France, the reason is because the voices of short-term economic benefits is often considered more important than the voice of the scientists, as the results of scientific research are often regarded as far-sighted, without immediate effects.

At the workshop, scientists raised the questions: How can we "guide" the government so that they do not ignore the important issues gained from scientific researches? What is the next step of the discussion? What can scientists do for Vietnam? What projects can they participate in Vietnam?

And finally, it was unsurprising to hear the statistics provided by scientist Michel Jarraud, former Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation, saying up to four billion people will be affected by ice melting on the Himalayas. Along with that, the governance is not easy, for example, the migration is likely to pose unmanageable problems for governments. Likewise, for issues related to climate change, such as sea level rise, or nuclear weapon-related decisions, it would be wrong if we consider them to be unfamiliar stories that are not related to the life of all of us.