Приветственное слово президента Академии наук Эстонии Тармо Соомере
Distinguished Rectors of the leading universities of Kazakhstan,
Honourable guests of this summit,
First I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to be part of this meeting. I regret that several urgent commitments in my country made it impossible for me to participate. However, it is my privilege to welcome you on behalf of the Estonian Academy of Sciences.
Universities and academies of science have basically the same core duty – to serve the society, to prepare excellent experts for our countries and to ensure that our countries are doing well in the international market of both education and economy. This is commonly done by providing high-quality science- based advice.
The classic definition says that science is a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws. The difference between science in this sense and typical problems or necessary solutions for society is significant.
The foundation of science is facts. Fact checking is basically the first thing we teach to young people. The difference between science and many other kinds of entertainment becomes evident already here.
This is perhaps at best expressed by science writer Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph (09 July 2016). He summarised the core message of today’s so-called post-truth politics as "Facts are negative. Facts are pessimistic. Facts are unpatriotic."
This exactly the first impression when it comes to the use of various resources and assets associated with nature. These aspects are also almost always present when we aim at solving societal problems. This is the barrier that the relevant science has to break and the decision-making on this area must face.
When it comes to the future of our countries, it is an imperative to recognise that those negative, pessimistic and unpatriotic facts are a major asset. The pool of such facts creates unavoidable and extreme useful knowledge that prevents us from taking wrong decisions, overexploiting natural resources or damaging fragile ecosystems. This knowledge and recommendations based on its use are exactly what European academies of science communicate to our countries and together with universities to the European Commission. The use of this knowledge in wide cooperation of production of science and higher education is one of the pillars of competitiveness of European countries.
The inconvenient facts serve as strong boundary condition that eliminates dead ends of progress. It may need some efforts and out-of-the-box thinking to find new ways. Sometimes we need regulative measures. Just remember the old-style light bulbs that produced more heat than light. Now we have light emitting diodes that are 100s of times more effective.
The line of thinking that was used before the facts became negative, pessimistic and unpatriotic is the glorious past of science. It belonged to the time when both system uncertainties and stakes were low. This is typical, for example, to Newton’s laws.
Now we are facing another situation. On the one hand, even though we know radically more about the world, our knowledge of the nature and the functioning of complicated social systems contains massive uncertainties. On the other hand, stakes are also extremely high. The rapid climate change or damaging of the ocean ecosystem by microplastic may put large parts of civilisation on stake. Still we have to take rational and forward-looking decisions. This is the fourfold challenge of science and science advice today: ‘facts uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent’.
These are exactly the challenges of science and science-based advice today. The core of the viewpoint on this challenge has been attractively formulated by Helmut Schwarz, the foreign member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, one of the former colleagues and even in some sense one of teachers of Angela Merkel. He has told: Without science we are unlikely to be able to construct a future that is worth of living.
Thank you very much for your willingness to contribute into the future that is worth of living – and my best wishes to this meeting.