The Role of Science in the Information Society asserted in CERN conference

In hosting the Role of Science in the Information Society (RSIS) conference, CERN1 takes a bold step forward into the policy arena. The conference, which was organised jointly by CERN, UNESCO, the International Council for Science, and the Third World Academy of Sciences, was held at CERN on 8-9 December as a Summit Event to the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS, Geneva, 10-12 December).

"This event has helped to develop a vision for how information and communication technologies can be applied for the greater benefit of all," said Luciano Maiani, Director General of CERN, who gave a summary of the conference and will present its results to the WSIS. One of the main objectives of the RSIS conference was to respond to a challenge by the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in Science magazine in March this year, where he called on the world's scientists to work with the United Nations to extend the benefits of modern science to developing countries.

Basic science made the technologies underlying the Information Society possible, and the needs of the scientific community have often driven new developments in information technologies, such as the Internet and the World Wide Web. Continuing scientific research will continue to underpin future developments of the Information Society. The globalisation of the information society has the potential to empower scientists from many regions of the world to create what Adolf Ogi, Special Advisor to the Swiss Federal Council on WSIS, termed "science sans frontières", and to contribute what Adama Samassékou, President of WSIS PrepCom, called their "indigenous knowledge" to the advancement of science.

But, "technology itself does not ensure the successful use and application of digital data," said Santiago Borrero, Secretary General of the Pan-American Institute for Geography and History. "Information technology, infrastructure, and connectivity do not necessarily equate to information access and a real bridging of the digital divide." It is therefore important that scientists play a part in determining how those technologies can best be used and that the voice of the scientific community be heard at the World Summit.

Guidelines emerged from RSIS concerning different aspects: "There is a consensus that education is necessary for development, that South-South cooperation can play a key role and that ICTs are essential in the learning process in all stages of life," said Luciano Maiani. ICTs also provide help in public-health areas such as safe water. In the field of environment, planners and decision makers need accurate and timely information. The exchange and use of scientific data could be a model for the rest of society, and open source software was stressed as essential. However, as HRH Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, Crown Princess of Thailand, reminded the participants, "there is no single formula for development." Therefore, it is important for scientists to engage in the policy arena and define projects with clearly visible benefits, for example the Grid.

"Today, when we stand at the threshold of the new ICT revolution and can barely see the contours of the new organisation of knowledge, we must be willing to re-invent ourselves and to think of radical change, not just incremental change," said Ismail Serageldin, Director General of the Library of Alexandria.

Several of the objectives defined by RSIS are making headway: the WSIS draft Declaration of Principles recognises that "science has a central role in the development of the Information society." Moreover the WSIS draft Action Plan aims to promote high-speed Internet connections for all universities and research institutions and the dissemination of knowledge through electronic publishing, peer-to-peer technology, and efficient collection and preservation of scientific data. "We scientists must commit our best efforts to implementing the Action Plan and demonstrating real progress by the time of the next WSIS meeting in Tunis in 2005," said Luciano Maiani.

CERN will also hold a Science and Information Society forum at the ICT for Development platform in Geneva's Palexpo centre during the World Summit. The forum will serve as a venue for scientific organisations to exhibit their ICT-related initiatives, and will also display the first Web server and information about CERN and the RSIS conference. A related SIS-online stand will display cutting-edge Web-related scientific initiatives. The platform will be open to the public from 9-13 December.

When asked his view about the significance of the RSIS conference, Tim Berners-Lee, Web inventor and director of the World Wide Web Consortium, said "I think it's useful for people every now and again to step back and look at the future, at where we're going. The fact that we're all thinking about it together may mean the conference has succeeded already."

The RSIS conference was sponsored by Oracle, the Republic and Canton of Geneva, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Santa Fe Institute, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Swedish Research Council, and the African Virtual University.

Notes for editors

CERN is the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, the world's largest fundamental scientific research centre. Founded in 1954, the laboratory was one of Europe's first joint ventures and includes now 20 Member States, as well as formal cooperation agreements with over 30 other nations worldwide.

Founded in 1931, the International Council for Science (ICSU) is a non-governmental organization whose aim is to strengthen international science for the benefit of society. It includes both 101 national scientific bodies and 27 international scientific unions..

The Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) is an autonomous international organization, founded in Trieste, Italy in 1983. With more than 600 Fellows and Associate Fellows, TWAS's principal aim is to promote scientific capacity and excellence for sustainable development in the global South.

The main objective of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is to contribute to peace and security in the world by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science, culture and communication in order to further universal respect for justice and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations.

Further Information

James Gillies
CERN
Tel: +41 22 767 4101
email: James.Gillies@cern.ch

Renilde Vanden Broeck
CERN
Tel: +41 22 767 2141
Renilde.Vanden.Broeck@cern.ch

The RSIS conference was sponsored by Oracle, the Republic and Canton of Geneva, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Santa Fe Institute, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Swedish Research Council, and the African Virtual University.

Footnote(s)

1. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. India, Israel, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and UNESCO have observer status.

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