In this interview on the occasion of the IYBSSD opening ceremony, Catherine Jami, Secretary General, International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, called on world leaders to prioritize science education.
Why do you think basic sciences should be promoted?
It is necessary to give basic science a chance for it to be effective in contributing to sustainable development.
I took part in the founding of a standing committee for Gender Equality in Science, which brings together, I think, by now, 19 international unions to promote gender equality in science across disciplines. And we very naturally joined the International Year, as you know, people who support them because, of course, gender equality in science, as elsewhere, is a major condition for sustainable development.
What is the focus of your research?
Well, I should tell you the whole truth. I’m a specialist of 18th century China, and I have worked in particular on an emperor Kangxi emperor, who was the second emperor of the Manchu dynasty. And the Kangxi emperor, he knew how to use, I would say, for example, mathematics, astronomy, cartography for good management of his empire. So it’s not really something new that people in power know that they need science in order to manage a country properly.
What links can you make between your research and sustainable development?
I would say that to a historian in science, it’s, I wouldn’t say pretty obvious, but it’s part of our job to understand how science has developed historically and how it has contributed to sustainable development, but also how sustainable development has been a condition for the development and progress of basic science. So I think the history of science certainly can contribute to understanding the links between sustainable development and fundamental science. In that we are looking at things not only, you know, as I would say, people who do politics, but on the longer term, because one of the one of the reasons why the links can be difficult to see is because they are not instantaneous. It takes time and it is necessary to give basic science a chance for it to be effective in contributing to sustainable development.
What is your dearest wish for this coming year?
I think my wish would be mainly that politicians would take science a bit more seriously and stop treating it as something that must yield a result, a profit instantly. We do need time. It’s a long term investment, but it’s really, really worthwhile. As we have seen repeatedly, you know, people talk about the COVID 19 vaccine, it wouldn’t be there if there had not been fundamental research going on for decades before. So that’s the most obvious example these days. But there are many, many others. And I think it’s really the notion that we are not businesses. Short term investments are not sufficient. So give us time.
Interview by Laurent Orluc