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The past 2020 marked thirty years of that “pale blue dot”: the media and iconic photo of the Earth that inspired one of Carl Sagan’s memorable texts. At the request of Carl Sagan himself, this photo was taken from space by the Voyager 1 probe, when it was at a distance of approximately 6 billion kilometers from Earth. And it was he who baptized it as a “pale blue dot”; this is how the Earth looked from space. That photo shows us the fragility of our planet and its inhabitants: we are a small speck of dust in the middle of the cosmic immensity. A tiny coronavirus has served to once again remind us of our fragility as a species.
The terrible situation we are going through is full of paradoxes and invites reflection. Climate change and global warming were reaching alarming levels. To combat them, we sign agreements that end up turning into disagreements. We invest large amounts of money in weapons. And suddenly, when everything was going crazy, the world stopped. The economy collapses, but air quality improves. The continents unite to defeat a common enemy. We realize that the real enemy was not our neighbor, but something much smaller than we imagined.
They say that crises are also times of opportunity. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility and vulnerability of our society; science has not escaped this scrutiny. The post-COVID-19 world may be a good opportunity to bet heavily on Science and Technology and new ways of doing them. Here are five things to consider when redefining a new post-COVID science and technology.
1. Priority and importance of Science and Technology
Science and technology have gained media visibility with the pandemic. Only they can get us out of this terrible situation. Society seems aware of it. Let us hope that this current enthusiasm for scientific-technological research is not temporary and that it is accompanied by greater investments and structural changes in research policies. We must become aware that science and technology are not an expense but an investment and a necessity of our societies.
2. Reconnecting the academic and industrial world: the importance of the Science-Technology-Business trinomial
An article in the prestigious MIT Technology Review magazine said:
“Funding research is useless if it does not translate into solutions. Beyond the coronavirus, we face big and complex problems, such as climate change, that will not be solved with small budget adjustments. We must change the R&D approach and reconnect the academic and industrial world ”.
This article has had a great impact and has served to reignite the debate on whether to invest more in basic science, in applied science. From my point of view everything is necessary. We must bet on basic science, but also on technology and structures that allow us to be agile and effective, moving discoveries from the laboratory to the market. In short, I think it is necessary to bet heavily on the Science-Technology-Business trinomial and this may be a good time.
Science tries to understand the world around us; technology turns that scientific knowledge into practical applications and the company brings these applications to market. The interaction between these three agents is essential in scientific-technological progress, they cannot be independent entities.
In the world of innovation, the so-called “valley of death” refers to the complex obstacles that a scientific-technological opportunity must overcome until it becomes a business and generates profits. Unfortunately, infinite embryos of potential great products and companies remain in this valley. And it is that this transition from the laboratory to the market is not easy.
Of course, when it is achieved it can be a great boost to the wealth and economy of a country and a great help to the great challenges and challenges that our society faces. The firm commitment to the Science-Technology-Company trinomial could help overcome the dreaded valley of death and would return great economic and social benefits.
3. Open science
The publishing community of large scientific-technical journals has been praised for providing free and open access to research related to COVID-19. As we envision our post-pandemic future, we should ask ourselves: can and should all research be open and universal access?
Many universities and research centers in the world only have access to certain scientific journals, as their institutions cannot afford to deal with any scientific journal. This somewhat slows down and delays scientific research.
If we want to accelerate scientific progress, democratize science, and make its findings truly transparent, there is a compelling case for moving to open access models – so-called Open Science – that are sustainable for both research teams and publishers. It is not an easy task, but I think the challenge is worth it.
4. Interdisciplinarity in science
In contrast to the interdisciplinary approach that is needed to face the current crisis, scientific research is often characterized by excessive specialization and limited collaboration between disciplines.
Although specialization is necessary for scientific-technological progress, the approach to the great problems and challenges of our era, such as disease, climate change, new information and communication technologies or space exploration, requires of a multidisciplinary approach. These great challenges can hardly be tackled from a single discipline, such as physics, chemistry or biology, to name a few examples.
Between the different disciplines, between science and technology, there is more and more a clear state of symbiosis; like a fungus and an alga, they coexist for mutual benefit. What is truly fascinating and fruitful is that the effect of all of them acting together is infinitely greater than the sum of the effects of each acting separately. We are facing a synergism in which the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
5. Alert to other major global problems
The pandemic caused by the coronavirus caught us off guard, despite the fact that in a famous TED talk in 2015 Bill Gates already warned of a possible global pandemic for which we were not prepared. “We will experience a threat not of missiles, but of microbes,” said the founder of Microsoft.
Humanity faces other great challenges, such as those related to climate change, global warming, air pollution, the tide of plastics, of which they have also been warning us for a long time. These problems are much serious than we imagine and with many indirect consequences.
For example, an increase in the planet’s temperature can lead to the proliferation of some species of mosquitoes that carry and transmit diseases. It is even said that our alteration of the planet facilitates the appearance of diseases such as COVID-19.
The health of the planet is also our health. Let’s hope that the coronavirus crisis can help us pay due attention to these great problems that threaten humanity.
The original version of this article appears in the Telos Magazine, of Fundación Telefónica.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.
Amador Menéndez Velázquez does not receive a salary, nor does he carry out consulting work, nor does he own shares, nor does he receive financing from any company or organization that may benefit from this article, and has declared that he lacks relevant links beyond the academic position cited.