Under critical situations caused by climate change, disasters, and infection diseases, how much control can science exercise over decision making? How much scientific knowledge, including uncertainty, can society incorporate in decision making?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published assessment reports since 1990 by integrating scientific knowledge produced by scientists worldwide. IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its scientific support for the development of internationally coordinated policies for mitigating and adapting to global warming. The organization also contributed to adopting the Paris Agreement globally in 2015. However, Dr. A. Weinberg, who pioneered the boiling water reactor, has presented a concept of “trans-science,” arguing that there are “questions which can be asked of science and yet which cannot be answered by science.” He suggests that beyond the domain of science lies the one where politics and society are solely responsible for making decisions.
At the beginning of this century, the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR) was launched in disaster science as an answer to a fundamental question: Why had science been failing to demonstrate concrete methodologies for disaster risk reduction, although it had increased scientific knowledge and technology? Similarly, in global environmental science, Future Earth began in 2015 in response to the criticism: No progress had been made in societal transformation even though scientific knowledge had been deepened and accumulated. In almost parallel to the discussions of these two international science programs, the Science Council of Japan met the same criticism over the reason for its existence and spent ten years restructuring the existing disciplines to create a new principle – “Science for Society.”
While science was reaching out hard to accommodate the needs of society through long hours of discussions as mentioned above, all of sudden COVID-19 broke out, spreading widely. Responding to urgent questions posed by society to science, the two parties have been working together without any clear definition of each other’s role and are now causing society dire confusion that can’t be ignored. Society and science definitely need to engage in deep deliberation on an interface between science and decision-making, referring to the concept of “trans-science,” while fostering trust of society in science, ensuring accountability of science to society, having faith in humility of scientists, and encouraging respect for diversity.
July 31, 2020
Executive Director of ICHARM