Science at the World Economic Forum is about inspiration, solutions and collaboration. First and foremost, leaders come together in Davos to address global challenges such as antibiotic resistance, climate change and understanding the human mind. Science has a critical role to play helping leaders understand why we have these problems, and increasingly leaders are looking to science for possible solutions. World leaders can also learn a lot from scientists’ ability to disagree, cooperate and compete constructively.
For these reasons alone, scientists need a seat at the table and a platform to share their views on global affairs and more. But Davos also gives scientists an opportunity to see where outcomes of studies or experiments might be of use to solving challenges in business, politics and society that they may not have been aware of. In Davos there are no talks – every session is a dialogue. Scientists do not come to preach, they come to engage. It’s through these interactions with the diverse range of participants from business, government, international organizations, civil society, religion and the arts that new insights are formed.
From cancer immunotherapies to the future of computing
This year Davos welcomed an extraordinary number of renowned researchers, acclaimed academics and stars in their fields, from autonomous robotics pioneer William “Red” Whittaker, to 2015 Breakthrough Prize winner Jennifer Doudna, whose work was hailed as the beginning of the end of genetic disease. Participants heard from Nobel laureates such as Kostya Novoselov on what the supermaterial graphene means for the future of computing, Mario Molina on how to fight climate change denial with evidence, and Venki Ramakrishnan on the ongoing challenge of microbial resistance to antibiotics despite new antibiotic discoveries.
Davos participants heard from leading experts about the latest research, from artificial intelligence and quantum computing to cancer immunotherapies and stem cell therapy to end blindness. There was a special series of discussions to explore what billion-dollar brain research initiatives are teaching us about emotional disorders, neurodegenerative disease, decision making, behaviour and mindfulness. And in a series of sessions designed in partnership with leading universities, participants discovered, debated and developed cutting edge ideas on topics from energy efficiency technologies to robotics and the human microbiome.
As discussed in the Global Science Outlook panel, Davos is also an opportunity to spread the core values of science to world leaders from all different sectors, from the pursuit of knowledge just for curiosity’s sake, to the acceptance that all new knowledge creates more questions than answers, to the fact that predicting the big breakthrough to come this year isn’t half as fun as waiting for those discoveries no one ever anticipated.
With geo-economic uncertainty and cultural tensions seemingly on the rise, the scientific value of embracing doubt seems particularly pertinent. Richard Feynman, a 20th century theoretical physicist and great promoter of science to the public, once said “science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” A healthy dose of skepticism about what we think we know and what others are telling us is true might be just what we need to combat the dogmatism and fanaticism that appears on the rise in so many parts of the world.