Agreement to create a global network to analyze the impact of science on society
The International Conference on Science in Society, organized for the first time in Spain by Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and which was held last week, approved the creation of a global network for researchers in this area to foment a field which, in the words of the UC3M Full Professor of Journalism and conference organizer, Carlos Elías, is perceived to be “one of the most important academic disciplines in the 21st century because it studies how science transforms the public sphere”. The network will begin with the conference attendees: 188 participants from 33 countries and more than 150 universities from all over the world. In addition, some universities have committed to this creation of an active and virtual center for communication to support and promote this area in their respective countries.
UC3M, according to Carlos Elías, is one of the universities which has committed to supporting a space for reflection for Spain where all of the agents who intervene in the confluence of science in society in our country can interact: from university and secondary school teachers and professors to scientists, philosophers, sociologists, journalists, filmmakers, economists, social psychologists and policy makers from different State or autonomous region entities. All of this will be analyzed from the academic point of view within this emerging field.
This international event, which was last held at the Cambridge University (England), took place from November 11 to 13 at the UC3M Leganés campus. The conference represented an opportunity to discuss in Spain, within the framework of Science Week, how such urgent issues are dealt with in other countries, issues such as the lack of scientific vocations in the West, comparison of scientific policies, public communication of science, and teaching innovations in science.
Carlos Elías pointed out that the international conference demonstrated two premises: that the area of Science in Society “does not have anything to do with science and society, or science, technology and society as it had been called until now.” There is a good deal of potential, but he also stressed the fact that the majority of researchers feel isolated because as it is a transversal discipline, the departments do not usually support it, and prefer it to stay within the traditional limits of its field. “For this reason we decided to at least stay in virtual contact through the Internet and the conference webpage, to foment advances which we will analyze at next year’s Washington conference”, he added.
Elías termed the conference “a liberating experience” because it provided the opportunity to express the grievances of those of us who dedicate ourselves to this field”. In this sense, he pointed out that “being an emerging area, still in its beginnings, is fascinating as well as frustrating, because in many cases we don’t know, for example if we form part of science, engineering, humanities, social sciences, or all of them at the same time. It is not clear to us which department we belong to or what option to choose when we have to request a research project; thus it is important that we stay united”.
Diverse and international attendance
Of the 188 participants, 11 were Spanish. Having the conference in Madrid fostered Spanish participation which was close to nil in the previous conference. Participation from emerging countries in this area was noteworthy; countries such as Canada, the presence of Oceania (Australia, New Zealand) and that of Asia, with representatives from China, South Korea, India, Pakistan and Singapore. Another point to highlight was the participation by researchers from Arab countries, such as Kuwait and the United Emirate Republic, or that of Africa, such as South Africa, Ghana or Zimbabwe. This international participation underlines the fact that research into the social aspect of science is a global field which has transcended Anglo-Saxon academia where it began.
A significant aspect of this encounter, according to its organizers, is the inter-disciplinary nature of the event, with participants from distinct fields of knowledge, ranging from biodegradable chemistry (Elena Polush, University of Iowa, USA) to evaluating public policy) (Fatos Tarifa, University of Tirana, Albania), including the relationship between emotional intelligence and behavior (Petro van der Merwe, University of South Africa), and representation from the medical establishment (Maija Leff, Stanford University, USA), the relation between science and education (Abdullah Al Rubaish, University of Dammam, Saudi Arabia) and the study of alternative energy and biodiversity. (Temis Taylor, Utah State University, USA).
Among the plenary speakers were such international experts as Matthew Stanley, History of Science professor from New York University and Jimena Canales, Harvard professor, whose latest book, A Tenth of a Second: A History. Chicago University Press, 2010, has been a critical success in US academic journals. Professor Carlos Elías stresses that being the host country has given Spain the opportunity to include the most noteworthy Spanish experts in this area, such as Javier Echeverría, Full Professor of Philosophy of Science and the Ikerbasque/CSIC Research Professor; Javier Ordóñez, Full Professor of History of Science at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid; Fernando Broncano, Full Professor of the Philosophy of Science at UC3M; Javier Moscoso, Coordinator of the CSIC Humanities and Social Sciences Centers; and Jesús Zamora, Full Professor of the Philosophy of Science at the UNED.