Remarks by Dr. Eric Lander to The World Academy of Sciences

Members of the World Academy of Sciences, it is an honor to join you. I especially want to thank Academy President Dr. Mohamed Hassan, and Executive Director Dr. Romain Murenzi — both for their invitation, and for their recent work to help rescue and resettle refugee scholars from Afghanistan.

Today I’d like to talk about the values we share as scientists: the values of curiosity, openness, humility, diversity, and dissent.

We value curiosity, because it’s the bedrock of scientific discovery.

We value openness, because science doesn’t move forward unless we share our knowledge and breakthroughs so that others can build on them.

We value humility, because no one has a monopoly on the best ideas. And despite what others may think, great science doesn’t only happen at elite institutions, in wealthy contexts, or western countries. It happens all around the world.

We value diversity, because scientific progress depends on someone seeing questions or answers that no one has seen before — because they bring a different lens, different experiences, different questions, different passions.

And we value dissent, because progress in science depends on challenging ideas and challenging theories to see if they stand up to scrutiny.

These values are what make science such an effective force for progress. They mean that a graduate student can have a better idea than the most distinguished professor, and should be recognized for that. They make science, at its best, one of the world’s most democratic practices.

In most global contexts, countries do not meet as equals. But here in science, we should all strive to meet as equals. Because scientific insights and breakthroughs can come from anywhere, and anybody.

Now, look, I’m a realist: I know that science sometimes fails to live up to these values — in individual labs, at scientific journals, in scientific institutions. I know that some countries, including my own, sometimes fall short. 

But now more than ever, we need to work together as equals and partners.

The challenges we face — the pandemic, the climate crisis, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals — will take a world working together.

We need to include, elevate, and embrace the unique perspectives of people doing science all around the globe — in universities and in laboratories, but also in diverse communities at the frontline of these challenges.

The United States will help lead, but we’ll also listen and learn: learn from countries like Costa Rica and Rwanda, about how to build public health systems can achieve better outcomes and lower costs. Learn from countries like India and Uganda, about how solar mini-grid technologies can help extend clean energy to communities living without it and make modern power grids more efficient and resilient.

Ideas born in Kigali or Kampala can teach people in California or Kentucky, as well as vice versa. 

The United States can and must do more ourselves. We’re proud to directly support local scientific researchers: from physician-scientists in Ghana studying if a certain gene increases risk of preeclampsia in mothers-to-be, to tropical forest ecologists in Colombia working to institute science-based forest management policies after devastating wildfires. And those are just two of hundreds of examples, across more than 50 countries in South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.

The United States is blessed with unique financial and scientific resources. We must make sure that these programs endure, expand, and receive more funding. And we must continue to welcome and exchange global scientific talent, with renewed commitment.

Our shared scientific values are crucial to maximizing the benefit of science for humanity. These values will guide the United States’ science, technology, and innovation policies in the years ahead.

I am so grateful for the work of the World Academy of Sciences and look forward working together in the coming years. Thank you very much.

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