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Science and Society Issues: Summary of Discussion Norman Neureiter American Association for the Advancement of Science A s it was pointed out in the discussion, in the United States it is considered extremely important to develop strategies to convey the importance of science and technology for the continued growth and prosperity of the United States to policy makers, Congress, and the presidential administration. This is especially true in the face of challenges to the U.S. technological leader- ship position from growing competition around the world and the lack of interest in science and technology among U.S. students. There are also religious and ideological objections to certain aspects of scientific investigation. Different approaches for conveying to the U.S. government the importance of science and technology to continued U.S. growth and prosperity were discussed, such as the media, direct impacts with decision makers, and possibly the develop- ment and use of the Internet. Also noted were the difficulties in communicating the uncertainties of science, such as incomplete data. In discussion, it was pointed out that the impact of the community or indi- vidual views on Iranian decision makers regarding science and technology is very minimal. However, there is not an anti-science mood in Iran among students. Islam becomes most involved in the creationism-evolution dispute. Also, where societies and people are poor, the sophisticated debates over science (e.g., those involving genetically modified organisms) are not relevant. The issues at hand are food and survival. Furthermore, although it is ideal for decision makers to decide questions only after rational analysis, there is a tendency to make decisions based on emotion or attitude. This implies that a mentality change is needed among decision makers. Regarding the validation and transfer of scientific research, research is not complete until it is peer reviewed and published; that is the validation process of 14
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SCIENCE AND SOCIETY ISSUES 15 science. There should be full and fair access to knowledge for all; the subscription model, where journals go into public libraries, is the right approach. Concern was expressed about trade-related aspects of rules for intellectual property rights (Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS agreement), including copyrights and patents and their impact on developing countries. Examples were provided of exploitation of genetic resources of developing countries, and so the importance of protecting such property was recognized. It was stated that on big issues, such as global warm- ing, we must have international cooperation, for example, on carbon dioxide sequestration, wherein each country would give up its intellectual property rights for the global good. Science is an activity where the practitioners do not kill each other when they disagree. Habits derived from necessities over time (diet, clothing, and so forth) can become traditions or doctrinal regulations. When crises are not analyzed, people attribute evil to the other side. Scientific education can lead to rational resolutions of conflict; however, change can be traumatic for people, and as such is often opposed. Government systems are not precise systems, and free elections are not always the optimum answer for a society. The question was raised whether human rights are the same for the United States, China, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia. In addition, it was noted that habits do not have to become traditions; they can change. Rationality often does not apply in human affairs, despite scientists’ pleas for it to be used. One must be sensitive to different cultures and questions regarding the universality of any given system of values. Any major change chal- lenges the culture, habits, or traditions of people and hence is met with reluctance or resistance.
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