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Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2004

Science meet ends on sour note over exclusive nature


Staff writer

KYOTO -- The inaugural Science and Technology in Society meeting here concluded Tuesday with participants happy to exchange views with distinguished colleagues but divided on how to expand the conference to make it as important as the World Economic Forum.

The brainchild of former Science and Technology Minister Koji Omi, the STS forum brought together nearly 500 scientists, including eight Nobel Prize winners, academics from the world's leading research institutes, corporate titans in the energy and pharmaceutical industries, and politicians.

During the three-day forum, participants discussed several areas of international social and political concern, including energy, stem cell research and information technology.

"Sixty percent of the world's energy is used by 20 percent of the world's population," said Lord Ronald Oxburgh, chairman of Shell Transport and Trading, a major trading company involved in oil and natural gas. "Time is of the essence. We have only another 30 to 40 years to avoid disaster due to greenhouse gas emissions."

Oxburgh said that while the energy panel felt nuclear fusion might be possible by then, in the meantime an intermediate solution is needed.

And alternate fuel sources, he said, including biomass, solar and wind, were seen by panelists as too unstable and too costly for developing countries.

"We need a further conference on this issue and we need to make supplying clean and stable energy as important a goal as the Apollo 11 project," he said.

Throughout the conference, there were many complaints that, even though it was supposed to be about how science affects all of society, the organizers had invited only a handful of nonscientific groups, and virtually no representatives on nongovernmental organizations, religious leaders or others whose expertise is outside the hard sciences.

"There was a lack of social scientists and anthropologists, and our discussions would have benefited from their presence," Philip Campbell, editor in chief of Nature magazine, said in his summary of the session on information technology.



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