Science in the Spotlight

By Winston Wong, Ph.D.

Congratulations to my friends and colleagues in Taiwan’s science community for the work they did to bring honor to the hundreds of researchers, scientists and mathematicians who work at Taiwan’s universities and innovation laboratories.

Much of the public takes the work of scientists for granted because all they see are the results: a new vaccine; a new tablet; a story about the discovery of a previously unknown planet or plant species. They don’t realize that years – sometimes decades – of hard work and trial-and-error often go into such new products and discoveries. And it is often a solo enterprise: a single man or woman pursuing an idea others might consider foolish. Remember, that’s what those “others” said about manned flight; instant global communications; our ability to conquer infectious diseases.

It’s possibilities such as these that drew me to science.

Taiwanese companies are widely recognized for their innovations and inventions. In 2009 alone, the prominent American scholar Shelley Rigger has noted, Taiwanese companies and inventors were granted nearly 8,000 U.S. patents. U.S. patents are considered the Gold Standard.

While virtually everyone acknowledges the ability of our companies to come up with new and improved products and processes, our scientific achievements have not been as prominently touted despite the many advances and discoveries here. The one notable exception is Yuan Tseh Lee, a graduate of National Taiwan University and National Tsing Hua University, who was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Fortunately, all that will change when Taiwan’s science community hosts the most prestigious scientific gathering in the world: the 2017 triennial meeting of the International Council for Science (ICSU) General Assembly.

Like a U.S. patent, the ICSU is the Gold Standard: a consortium of 32 international scientific unions and 121 national science organizations, including the Royal Society of Great Britain, chartered more than 350 years ago, in the 166os, America’s National Academy of Sciences, and the Science Council of Japan, among many others. It represents the best of the best, brightest of the brightest.

And the ICSU’s mission is an important one: To strengthen international science for the benefit of society.

The Science Council recognizes that conducting research for its own sake is not enough. An equal if not greater effort needs to be made to ensure that scientific discoveries are transformed into products and processes that improve human health and enhance our quality of life and the quality of life of future generations.

The ICSU General Assembly, which meets only once every three years, provides a rare opportunity for the world’s leading scientific minds to discuss the most important issues of the day.

What an honor it will be for Taipei to host this distinguished group. As the date approaches, we’ll encourage all of Taiwan – from our top scientists and corporate executives to our most humble tradesmen and shop-keepers – to put out the “welcome mat”!

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