Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Global Research Infrastructures under the spotlight at ICRI2012

As the current holders of the Presidency of the European Council, this week Denmark is hosting the International Conference on Research Infrastructures (ICRI2012). Previously known as ECRI, this event is the 7th in the series and will be the first time that the conference will debate international issues. Delegates will focus on global challenges in the areas of health, climate change, energy and e-infrastructures. The purpose of the meeting is not just to meet, discuss and enjoy some Danish food and beverages, but to make specific recommendations on how international cooperation on research infrastructures can be improved.

Today’s plenary kicked off with a welcome by officials from the Danish Ministry for Science, Innovation and Higher Education, and from Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research and Innovation. She celebrated the inauguration of the first two ERICs – European Research Infrastructure Consortium – legal entities bringing together several countries into a single, international organisation designed to run research infrastructures of European value. CLARIN for language research, and SHARE, a databank for population ageing are the first to be set up, interestingly both in the area of social sciences.

Philemon Mjwara, of the Department of Science and Technology, South Africa and Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist both spoke about work in their regions – but agreed not to discuss astronomy, with the outcome of the location of the Square Kilometre Array still hotly contested. Chubb extended this in tongue-in-cheek fashion to both rugby and cricket as well… In Australia, the need to collaborate globally to solve grand scientific challenges has always been a fact of life, but the government is now keen to make this more formal. “Government to government, nation to nation, research institution to research institution,” emphasised Chubb.

The highlight of today’s session was Hans Rosling of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. In a highly animated talk, which involved precariously piled up coffee cups, revolving bubble diagrams and several good humoured jokes targeted at most of the nationalities / age groups / religions in the room, he talked us through why there is no ‘population explosion’ as received wisdom would have it, as we have already reached static birth rates at an average of 2.4 children per woman worldwide.. but of course the population is still growing. Expected to hit 9-10 billion people by 2070, Rosling also talked us through where this higher population will be located in the future – Africa and Asia are the real growth areas, also rapidly catching up with the so-called Western world in the financial stakes. “There is a new term for the developing world I’d like to launch today,” said Rosling, “it’s called... the world.”

More tomorrow from Copenhagen… follow the discussions live on Twitter at #icri2012.

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