Thierry J.-L. Courvoisier
Des Etoiles aux Etats, Manifeste pour la gouvernance à l’écoute de la science1
Georg Editeur, Genève 2017, ISBN 978-2-8257-1057-9
From Stars to States, A Manifest for Science in Society
Springer 2017, ISBN 978-3-319-59232-9
Keine Gesellschaft ohne Wissenschaft
Springer 2018, ISBN 978-3-662-55556-9
Thierry Courvoisier shows the important role that science plays in our society and in shaping our environment, and discusses the resulting responsibility of researchers for the development of the world, that of making knowledge "really useful to society". As part of an analysis of the relationship between science and politics, his book provides clues as to how scientists can (and indeed must) contribute with their findings to the evidence-based policies that the society needs. This means also countering the sometimes-hostile approach of science that some of our contemporaries have developed.
At the example of astronomy, his field, Courvoisier takes stock of what astronomy has brought to society in the course of history in terms of knowledge and innovation, as provider of time and seasons and time measuring techniques et cetera. More generally, science as a whole has provided comfort, health and longevity, the ability to travel to the four corners of the planet – but with this domination over the world, humankind is also modifying it: we have entered the age of the Anthropocene.
Humanity profoundly modifies the planet Earth as a whole. The effects are global: emissions of gases modify the atmosphere, lead to global warming, rising sea levels, local droughts; the resulting scarcity of resources bring about population movements that become sources of political conflicts. Local political decisions are no longer sufficient when it comes to global issues.
Hence the responsibility of scientists whose method is able to tackle the causes and effects of the complex climate machine, for example, but also the mechanisms of human societies and psychology. "It is one of the responsibilities of scientists to bring the knowledge where it is necessary for our societies to make the right decisions and carry out the actions that flow from them", explains Thierry Courvoisier.
Bringing knowledge means proper communication with society and politics. While many things distinguish scientists from politicians: education, attitudes, language and also personalities. The precise, cautious, even sceptical language of the scientists constructing knowledge differs starkly from the necessarily simple and direct language of politics in search of adherence and action. In addition, scientists owe their recognition to the novelty and quality of their research, while politicians are elected. A scientific theory is never totally definitive, can be criticized and recognized, but its acceptance does not go through a poll or even a definitive election. The timescales also are vastly different, long in sciences from the fundamental findings to applications, contrasting with the short re-election cycles in politics.
However, special attention to communication is essential to improve the links between the two worlds, because society needs science, as science is a necessary part of the solution to major societal challenges. Though science is not all: society is held together by values and important aspects of our lives are led by emotions.
To provide answers where necessary, science has to be pedagogical with a language that can be understood. A real cultural program, in which Thierry Courvoisier takes us with the knowledge he has developed notably during his engagement with the Swiss and European academies. In this book he offers us his experience, and makes us scientists aware of our responsibility to develop the appropriate attitudes and communication skills. Thierry Courvoisier plays here the role of a mediator between science and society. His book provides wonderful support to deepen this relationship, and is an indispensable vade mecum that should be put in the hands of all scientists and policy makers!
1 After the release of "Des Etoiles aux Etats, Manifeste pour une gouvernance à l’écoute de la science", Thierry Courvoisier’s French text has been translated into English and has appeared as "From Stars to States – A Manifest for Science in Society", and is now also available in German with the title "Keine Gesellschaft ohne Wissenschaft".
[Published: March 2018]