This week more than 3000 scientists, bureaucrats and industry representatives have congregated in Montreal for the IPY 2012 conference called “From knwoledge to action”. The main problem with the conference is that there has been a lot og knowledge and very litle action.
My expectations might have been a litle off, but I do believe that a coneference that gives itself the title “From Knowledge to Action” must strive to combine policy and science, scientists and politicians. And, if it was not possible to get the politicians onboard, the onus is on the scientists to formulate the policy implications of their work. Without doing this the science stays in its ivory tower without gaining traction in the real world.
The conference shows the huge implications for the Arctic of climate change, the change for local societies by the effects of globalization and that we still need more information on all these aspects. To be able to handle this we need the politicians to act, on globalisation, on climate change, and on providing funds for further studies and even longer time series. On this important field the conference seems to me to be a failure.
I think one of the reasons of this is that the community that is here is so damned polite and restrained. Where is the fired up discussions on scientific priorities, on policy or on relationsships between indeginous populations and majority populations? They might be here, but I certainly did not find them. I do not think it is because everyone agrees, but I do think it is because everyone is so polite.
Fortunately the key note speaker on thursday adressed some of these challenges. Dr. Sheila Jasanof gave a wonderful talk about the border between science and politics, between knowledge and actions, and why this border is so seldom bridged. Her answer was that one of the problems is that we believ that there is a linear movement from knowledge to action, and that the wrongly held belief that science is neutral and should not be involved in the messy compromises that is politics is one of the barriers against necesarry action on among other things climate change. You really should hear her talk. I think it will be available on the coneference homepage.