Is Science Sustainable?
Science is expected to be essential for addressing current and future major global issues such as sustainability, environmental changes, climate change or ageing population. Scientists and researchers are the backbone of knowledge-based economies. The number of researchers in OECD countries rose from 2.4 million in 1990 to 3.4 million in 2000, and demand is still expanding. The EU alone estimates it will need 700,000 additional researchers by 2010 (1). Where will all these new scientists and researchers come from?
Crisis in scientific vocation. Over the past 15 years, the proportion of S&T students in most OECD economies has steadily decreased. Some disciplines, such as mathematics or physical sciences, show particularly worrying trends (2).The situation is not only dramatic inthe richest countries, especially in Europe, but also in countries such as
Acceptability of science by the society.Science is also suffering from an image problem. Popularity of science and technology is decreasing in a growing number of countries (European countries,
Cost of science and financing mechanisms.The costs of scientific research and education are being increasingly funded out of internal university funds.There is concerns about financing means for research projects that guarantee the transparency and objectivity of conclusions and recommendations.Identifying such sustainable and transparent financial mechanisms is essential to avoid ethical crisis that would heavily impact on science image and scientific vocation.
Balkanization of knowledge.As human knowledge expands, the relative share of competence of any scholar dramatically drops. A recent estimation reported about 24,000 peer-reviewed journals, publishing about 2.5 million articles a year, across all languages and all scholarly and scientific research disciplines (5).This fragmentation offers favourable conditions to work duplication, maintenance of inefficient techniques, not to mention wrong usage.Such atomisation hampers the gathering and the transmission of the full breadth of knowledge required for future discovery and thus threatens the sustainability of the scientific education pyramid.
Nations are far from equal in face of these problems and brain drain or brain circulation result from important asymmetries. Consequently, the regional distribution and the relation between these issues need to be addressed on a global scale. It’s a necessary step for identifying the optimal conditions to making science sustainable from a socio-economic, political and cultural point of view.
1. Key figures 2005 for science, technology and innovation” European Commission
2. Evolution of Student Interest in Science and Technology Studies. OECDPolicy Report. May 2006
3. Report from
4. Badhuri S.Science, Society, and Technology—Three Cultures and Multiple Visions.J Sci Edu & Tech., 2003 Vol. 12: p303-308
5. Harnad, S. (2005) On Maximizing Journal Article Access, Usage and Impact.