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Bringing science to the policy table

Presentations at the UN’s New York headquarters used CERN as an example of the vital importance of science for peace


“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war anymore." So says Isaiah 2:4, as transcribed on the famous wall in Ralph Bunche park, just the other side of 1st Avenue from the UN’s New York headquarters, where we held a celebration of our 60th anniversary year on Monday 20 October. I used the quotation in my opening address, since it is such a perfect fit to the theme of 60 years of science for peace and development.

The event was organised with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC, in the framework of CERN’s observer status at the UN, and although focused on CERN, its aim was broader. Presentations used CERN as an example to bring out the vital importance of science in general to the themes of peace and development.

The event was presided over by Martin Sajdik, President of ECOSOC, and we were privileged to have presentations from both the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who encouraged CERN to strengthen its engagement with the UN system, and the President of the UN General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, which is not a common occurrence! Introductory remarks were also given by the Permanent Representatives of France and Switzerland to the UN. The four keynote talks included former CERN Director-General Carlo Rubbia, who gave a compelling account of the scientific endeavour. “Science is a wide community effort,” he pointed out. “It depends on free exchange of ideas.” His sentiment was echoed by South Africa’s science minister, Naledi Pandor, who said that: “Scientific research at CERN and at the SKA telescope can draw nations together to share resources and skills.”

Hitoshi Murayama went further. “Science is a true peace-maker,” he said, “it can make differences between us disappear.” As a CERN SPC member and Professor at both the University of Tokyo and the University of California, Berkeley, he should know! In his keynote address Kofi Annan set great store by the importance of science for development, especially in the developing world, and he paid tribute to CERN, saying that: “CERN is advancing boundaries of human knowledge, leading us to understand our universe”, a theme picked up on by Fabiola Gianotti as she opened the discussion to the floor with the words: “as CERN’s history demonstrates, science promotes and produces knowledge, development, education and peace.” As the event drew to a close, UNESCO Director General, Irina Bokova gave a glowing endorsement of CERN. “There are ideas that have completely changed the course of history,” she said, “CERN was one of these.”

The purpose of the event was to argue the case for science having a seat at the policy table, which is where it needs to be if we are to overcome the major challenges facing society today. If Martin Sajdik’s closing words are anything to go by, I think we succeeded. “We have reaffirmed today,” he said, “that science is a powerful force for good.” Policy makers of the world: please take note!