CALL FOR PAPERS: An Open World: Science, Technology, and Society in the Light of Niels Bohr’s Thoughts

University of Copenhagen, 4–6 December 2013.

As part of the celebration of the 2013 centennial of Niels Bohr's seminal articles on his model of the atom, the University of Copenhagen hosts an ambitious international conference, responding—with inspiration from Bohr's ideas on an open world—to the political challenges posed by contemporary science and technology. With high level international practitioners and leading intellectuals and scholars from an unusual range of disciplines, the conference will take a principled look at emerging sciences and their inherent dangers and demands on politics, business and technological innovation.

We invite submission of abstracts on the societal-political challenges posed by new science and technology, on the role of openness and knowledge circulation in handling these challenges, and on possible institutions and procedures for better interaction between science and politics.

Humankind faces scientific breakthroughs with radical implications in many areas: from genetic engineering, nano-science and personalized medicine through big-data computing and energy technology to space weapons. Thus we encourage researchers from all disciplines to submit papers addressing emerging dangers and possibilities stemming from the relations between science, technology and society—especially, how the handling of new challenges is influenced by the conditions for free flow of ideas, science and knowledge.

The conference is organized under four headings. Plenary sessions as well as parallel sessions, where papers are presented, follow this structure:

• Military Technologies of Tomorrow

• Global Threats and Possibilities through Science: From climate change to epidemics

• New Politics and New Economics with New Technologies: Openness?

• Scientists and Politics

The first two cover new challenges produced by radical breakthroughs in science and technology—first military challenges, then threats and transformations in other domains like climate change, energy, health and biotechnologies. Special attention is paid in these sessions to the way these developments challenge existing political and institutional structures, and how thorough scholarly insight into the nature of these new sciences and technologies point to pertinent principles of organization and governance.

The third explores the "solution side" as suggested by Niels Bohr by the concept of openness. Whereas his idea was then mostly a radical vision, technologies like the internet have since provided unprecedented forms of openness. Therefore, this theme today points towards exploration of the economic, legal, political and technological decisions that currently threaten or limit the potential of openness especially in the realms of science and technology. Also, potential dangers and dilemmas of unlimited openness will be addressed.

In the fourth, the relationship between science and politics is addressed. Today, single individuals can’t meaningfully write open letters to the UN, but decision makers need to be informed by cutting edge scientists about the implications of scientific developments, and scientists face difficult dilemmas in relation to both the social implications of their science and their public responsibility.

Securing an open world—expressed most famously in his "Open Letter to the United Nations" from 1950—was Bohr's highest ambition in the last two decades of his life. From the first time he learned about the American-led nuclear weapons program, Bohr warned that the bomb would be radically different from existing weapons and thus had to be approached differently: first, by informing the Soviet allies, then, after the war, by generally making crucial science and technology freely available, ensuring exchange of ideas across borders. Without such action, the new weapon would be absorbed into an unchanged policy, which would result in a swelling system of secrecy, competition and suspicion consuming an increasing share of the resources of humanity, and create hitherto unknown risks. The warnings proved correct—but fruitless. Bohr's proposition that the new technology necessitated a new international order of knowledge was too radical at the time. Robert Oppenheimer later said that Bohr's way of thinking meant that "in principle, everything that might be a threat to the security of the world would have to be open to the world."

The idea behind the current initiative is, quite simply, to take a similarly principled look at the relations between science, technology and society today. The solution is unlikely to be identical to the one proposed by Bohr, but the challenges of today are of a magnitude that require Bohrian thought.

One major change is that new technology indeed did unleash productive powers through openness that have allowed mankind to handle many of the new challenges and risks; but the openness we have seen, most clearly with the internet, is not to be taken for granted. Whereas Bohr called for openness as a radical idea, it now exists but precariously: economic and political developments threaten to limit the full potential of the new open channels. Scholars must ascertain how decisions (seemingly narrow and technical) taken in the legal, political, economic and strictly technological realms have major implications for the future productivity of science and politics.

The conference should bring new insights on as well as attention and solutions to some of today's most important issues. Hence, it proceeds ambitiously with a wide range of talks by prominent scholars such as Jonathan Moreno, John Naughton, Richard Rhodes, Ron Deibert, Eric von Hippel, Nigel Shadbolt, and Dennis Meadows. As part of the conference, UNESCO’s secretary general Irina Bokova will award the Niels Bohr gold medal to Jimmy Wales, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, and Alain Aspect, who will all address the conference. The secretary general of IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano and other prominent practitioners bring strong links to policy, and the conference generally aims to distil operational conclusions and advice, furthering global deliberations on issues that are so big that they are usually ignored. The centennial of one of the most remarkable and iconic contributions to science is a privileged occasion for science to contribute a new open letter to the United Nations.

The conference takes place in the old ceremonial hall of the University of Copenhagen on 4–6 December 2013. The conference fee is €125.

Abstracts submitted to no later than September 1, 2013 will be swiftly reviewed and the selected papers circulated ahead of the conference, discussed and become part of the process leading to a new "open letter" from the conference and a volume with key contributions. Please be aware that the number of slots available is limited. A longer background paper about the conference as well as the preliminary program can be found here or by mailing the above address, where also questions about the conference will be answered.


Organizing Committee: Director of the Niels Bohr Archive Finn Aaserud, Professor and Chairman of the Carlsberg Foundation Flemming Besenbacher, Chief of Laboratory Vilhelm Bohr, Former Permanent Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Ulrik Federspiel, Professor Jens Jørgen Gaardhøje, Dean John Renner Hansen, Editor in Chief Bo Lidegaard, Senior Researcher Ida Nicolaisen, Professor and Chair of the Danish National Commission for UNESCO Linda Nielsen, Professor Helle Porsdam & Professor Ole Wæver (chairman of organizing committee).

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Tags: business, climate, disease, economy, innovation, military, politics, science, technology


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Comment by Carnegie Council on August 23, 2013 at 12:38pm

Thanks, Oyedipe! We'll take all the kudus, kudos, and Kudos we can get! :) --Evan

Comment by Valentine Olushola Oyedipe on August 23, 2013 at 12:08pm

Kudus to Carnegie Council, your mandate is felt all over. Kudus to all working at the background for this wonderful network and connectivity.


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