A new UNESCO science report, to be published in Paris on Friday, calls for a significant increase in investment in science. It is true that spending on science rose by 19 per cent worldwide from 2014 to 2018. The number of scientists also grew by about 13 per cent – a trend intensified by the coronavirus pandemic.
But behind these numbers there is a global imbalance: according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural and Communication Organization (UNESCO), roughly two-thirds of the increase is due to the United States and China alone (63 percent).
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According to this, four out of five countries around the world are far behind and spend less than one percent of their gross domestic income on science.
Lack of research on climate protection and sustainability
The UNESCO report also identifies inconsistencies in research into the major challenges facing humanity. For example, research on carbon capture for climate protection or sustainable energy drops sharply compared to work on artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.
Nearly 150,000 articles were published worldwide on artificial intelligence and robotics in 2019 alone, but only 2,500 articles were on carbon sequestration. And in six of the 10 leading countries in the field, research is falling behind, including Germany, France and the Netherlands. The topic of sustainable energy made up only 2.5 percent of scientific publications in 2019.
“Today’s challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, deteriorating ocean health and epidemics are all global,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO. This is why researchers from all over the world must be mobilized.
“The world needs to focus on providing science with the tools it needs,” Azoulay says. There is still a long way to go before science can contribute its full potential to sustainable development.
In order to achieve this goal, the report says, science and research must become more open. As before, open access and free access to the scholarly literature and other online materials are only available for every fourth publication.
In addition, despite the great dynamism that the Covid 19 pandemic has caused in research in many parts of the world, there are many obstacles to science. For example, the majority of researchers cannot reach 70 percent of publications.
Too few women in science
The report also criticizes the fact that a third of researchers worldwide are women. In the life sciences, parity has almost been reached, but in many other areas of increasing importance, there is still a long way to go. Only about 22 percent of women in AI research are women. “We cannot allow inequality in society to be reproduced or exacerbated by futurology,” the report says.