NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
SEPTEMBER 24, 1996
As I look out across this representation from so many of the world's nations, I am reminded of the comment of the American Secretary of State, Dean Rusk. He said, "The world is round. Only one-third of its people are asleep at any one time. The other two-thirds are awake and causing mischief somewhere."
Although we are among the two-thirds who are awake, at least at the outset of my talk, I'm not sure one could characterize this assemblage as a group of mischief makers. I might instead characterize you collectively as a group of "magic makers." After all, science has been the driving force behind most of what the world thinks of as "having magical proportions"--instant global communication, organ transplants, space travel, and oh, so much more. The noted science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, stated it more concisely when he said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Each of you, in your own field, contributes to that process and progress.
I very much regret not being able to attend your all day symposium on "Science and Human Goals In The 21st Century". I am in complete agreement with its theme and objective. As a matter of fact, my comments tonight are, I believe, an extension of those very thoughts.
In the past several months, I have spoken to many groups of my colleague-scientists here in America about a new, additional role that, I believe, scientists must play in society. I termed this role the "civic scientist"--civic meaning concerning or affecting the community or the people. In this new capacity, scientists step beyond their campuses, laboratories, ministries, and institutes and into the center of their communities to engage in active dialogue with their fellow citizens. Do I mean that we go out and teach science to shopkeepers, lawyers, consultants, and construction workers? Not entirely. To engage in dialogue is to listen as well as to speak. While there is great need for the public to have a better understanding of science, and we should promote this in every way possible, there is as great a need for scientists to have a better understanding of the public.
I bring this same philosophy to ICSU tonight but with an additional imperative. I have titled my remarks, "What Einstein Said That We Did Not Hear".
Ever since humans left the confines of this planet to venture into space more than three and one-half decades ago, the limited circle of our globe and the even tighter circle of our dependency on each other have emerged in a clearer light. Those first photographs of Earth taken from space spoke not only of our shape and size in the vast universe but of our singularity and our unity. Although we all have national allegiances, and regional alliances, we are, in addition, all citizens of the small blue planet. And on this planet, the advancement of civilization has, in many respects, been driven by the scientific and technological research of each succeeding generation.
We so frequently hear and use the phrase "science and society" that perhaps it has become a cliche. I think we would agree that this phrase has meant that science has "a relationship to" or "a role in" society. Within this context, the world scientific community has unraveled many of the secrets of nature, and the behavior of many of its life forms.
We would agree that science--and I include engineering--is a force absolutely fundamental to our well-being and, in fact, survival--science and society as interdependent. We are only slowly coming to the recognition that science must be seriously concerned with the many and great unsolved problems of humankind.
I have frequently pointed out that we are able to do increasingly outstanding science at the same time that many societal disparities and problems are also increasing. Although our long-held professional goals of teaching and research are significant, perhaps they are not enough. Rather, a further goal must be to understand the physical, moral, and social problems that hold our civilization in the grip of numerous contradictions.
In 1991, ICSU took us a giant step in this new direction with its conference and report, ASCEND 21 which provided a perspective for the future direction of global science in the field of environment and development and which some of you here this evening worked hard to put together. The conference statement and general introduction should be required reading for every scientist and policymaker. Today's "Symposium On Science And Human Goals In The 21st Century" is another important recognition of the direction we must pursue.
I mentioned earlier that the title of my remarks tonight was, "What Einstein Said That We Did Not Hear". I hope you were wondering, or perhaps recalling, what he did say. In 1931--before World War II and in the deepest days of economic depression, Einstein admonished the science community in an address at the California Institute of Technology. He said, "Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors, concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods--in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations."
Here we are sixty-five years later finally building consensus for his wisdom. Einstein takes us back to our fundamental values as guidance, our concern for humanity and its fate. In those terms, there is a 21st century global agenda (for research) about which, I believe, we must all be concerned.
Let me be more explicit. Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, the era of East-West rivalry has been eclipsed by an emerging era of North-South realities and relationships. This emerging era comes with new challenges, shared international responsibilities, and also important opportunities. Much of the opportunity will be enabled by the world science community, and ICSU, I believe, will be in the lead.
There is a global imperative to close the widening gap between haves and have-nots--not through hand-outs or hand-downs but through building knowledge and capacity in poorer nations to enable them to create their own wealth.
In 1960, the world population was 3 billion. We all know that by the turn of the century we will double that number to 6 billion. This will have occurred in less than four decades. Most of the world's population growth and much of its economic expansion will occur in the South. Here too will exist the potential for the deepest problems of hunger, poverty, and disease, as well as for vast environmental devastation and its incumbent emergencies.
Although the 130 plus developing countries already account for 4/5 of the world's people, they only account for 1/6 of its economic output. This pervasive condition of poverty is like a disease--not because it is contagious but rather because it devastates those stricken, individuals and nations, and has far reaching implications for all the world's citizens and nations. Poverty degrades the dignity of us all as human beings no matter where it occurs, North, South, East or West.
And so, we must be mindful to think not only of saving our planet for future generations, but of saving the planet's current generation. Our reverence for humanity's habitat must include a reverence and compassion for humanity itself. Our only hope of saving either rests in a commitment to save both. Sustainable development cannot mean sustaining poverty in those places where it exists.
I return again to the hope and optimism of Einstein. When describing simple rules of guidance, he said, "From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."
I believe that members of ICSU understand Einstein's clear and compassionate rules.
That is why I have brought this exhortation to your General Assembly. I believe that ICSU has the collective talent to turn this dilemma into opportunity. Although governments have the resources to address many of these problems, governments are often encumbered by their own politics. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), on the other hand, are a growing force in leading governments with disparate goals down a common path.
And so, because I honor and respect ICSU for articulating bold insight in the new values, goals, and attitudes of their ASCEND 21 agenda, I have come here to ask you to go even further. The sheer acceptance of new values does not necessarily promote change. In addition to that articulation, we must be actively civic and civically active in order to move beyond our words and warnings.
Instead of waiting for governments to initiate the action, NGOs can lead governments with their own action. You may be wondering what I have in mind.
With its broad and diverse representation, ICSU can work to develop consensus on a global agenda for science to address the major unsolved problems of the human condition over the next several decades. With the collaboration of members from developed and developing nations who bring strong environmental understanding, those solutions will necessarily adhere to the criteria for sustainable development.
The major problems facing the whole global society are human problems. And they will require more than technical solutions. These problems emerge out of complex patterns of overlapping consequences.
For example, over the last several decades, the investment that industrial nations have made in improved nutrition, medical technologies, and public health have all coalesced to boost life expectancy in Europe and the United States from less than 47 years in 1890 to 75.5 years in 1993. Japan has done even better. More recently, this trend is also emerging in developing countries. (Science . Vol. 273 . July 5, 1996) This is surely an advance to celebrate for all humanity.
However, as this life-expectancy trend increases, nations will struggle to support these elderly populations with a decreasing proportion of their populations at wage-earning age. Thus our triumph of better health and longer life will also pose an economic dilemma. But Einstein would tell us there is opportunity here. Our job is to create it.
We cannot deny that there are overlapping consequences of poverty, planetary devastation, illiteracy, aging populations, communicable diseases, mass migrations of immigrants, agricultural output, energy supply, and others. Grappling with these issues collectively might seem like a completely unmanageable task, at best. But we cannot make choices among them either. They are all needs on a common tableau and operate in fluctuating balances over time. We can, however, make the same leaps of majestic proportion that created every other milestone of human progress.
Developing a complex global problem-solving agenda is surely the greatest challenge the world scientific community has had to face. It will engage all fields of science, from physics to psychology, from economics to biology, from engineering to sociology. And in the long run it will require more than science alone. Policymakers will be crucial to any and all solutions. But the nongovernmental world science community can create an action-agenda for the human problems that will lead governments in the right direction.
The International Council of Scientific Unions is the obvious candidate to lead. Thus, I have come here to present this challenge to you. If you accept it, you will be the civic scientists and the essential humanitarians of the globe. If you accept it, you will help nations not only solve existing problems but prevent future problems. If you accept it, you will teach all of us what we didn't hear the first time, when Einstein spoke.
Congratulations on your excellent symposium, and thank you for allowing me to be with you this evening.