Received Date: November 26, 2012; Accepted Date: November 27, 2012; Published Date: November 29, 2012
Citation: Brito AC, Saraiva S, de Lima RF (2012) The Role of Science in Society: Challenges in a Time of Global Changes. J Ecosyst Ecogr 2:e116. doi:10.4172/2157-7625.1000e116
Copyright: © 2012 Brito AC, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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What is the role of science in society? Is science improving our ability of living in a sustainable way? Does science communicate effectively with society? In a societal point of view, science should provide solutions to our daily problems, as well as to technical and philosophical issues . Science should enhance the quality level of responses provided to society. On the other hand, science requires a high level of support from society. The financial support is perhaps the most visible, and of course, a critical issue in managing science. However, science also needs to engage in communication with society. Feedback and understanding from the common citizen is essential to improve science and to protect the natural environment . Nevertheless, communication between scientists, managers and policy makers still represents a major challenge.
The natural functioning of ecosystems provides several goods and services, which are essential for society. Ecosystem goods include food and raw materials, which have been anciently used, for example, to produce tools and build shelters. This is the most basic and wellrecognised value of ecosystems. Moreover, much has been recently discussed about the value of ecosystem services, such as the water and climate regulation, waste treatment, fixation of nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrient cycling and oxygen/carbon balance [3-5]. Global temperature, precipitation and other climate components are globally and regionally regulated by biologically mediated processes, which are being altered by humans . The waste treatment by the recovery of excess mobile nutrients is one of the most importance services in a time of increasing anthropogenic action. How much can these ecosystem services be worth? How much more are people willing to pay to ensure these services are sustainable? These are interesting and challenging questions, which several authors have already tried to answer, see for example Costanza et al.  and Newcome et al. . However, a consensus is far from being reached. Payments for Ecosystem or Environmental Services (PES) have been implemented during the recent years. This process involves giving incentives to farmers and land owners, who receive support in land management, enhancing the communication capacity and increasing the potential for providing environmental services. Several schemes to implement PES have been discussed and implemented in the last few years . Farley and Costanza  and Daniels et al.  provided an overview of the PES schemes in Costa Rica, and although the implementation of PES was successful, contributing for the restoration of degraded land, these schemes remain poorly understood at some specific regions and much can still to be done in order to improve the effectiveness of such programs.
Human activities have, directly or indirectly, contributed for the general degradation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem functioning. The negative impacts of resource over exploitation, pollution and climate change on society have been increasing in the recent decades, and are expected to keep doing so in the future [9-11]. This situation is likely to interfere with the sustainable development of society, which according to Brudtland  is defined by the ‘development that satisfies present needs without compromising the possibility of future generations satisfying theirs’. The 4th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report predicted a global temperature change by 2100, compared to 1990, between 0.3 and 6.4°C, depending on the emission scenarios . This increase in temperatures will have critical effects on the hydrological cycle, leading to significant changes in precipitation regimes and to an increase in the number of extreme weather events. It is therefore to expect that the provision of ecosystem services will become harder to predict and that strategic planning will become more challenging, but also of greater importance. The United Nations conference on sustainable development (Rio+20), held in Brazil last June, was one of the most important meetings on sustainability. It was attended by 192 UN Member States, but the general outcomes were considered unsatisfactory by most scientific community. Sustainability seems to require more than what society is willing to give at present time.
Modern societies often praise themselves for their science-driven progress, while paradoxically, scientists often struggle to communicate their research. Such communication is hindered by several factors. Science is inherently complex and scientific jargon tends to make it even more difficult to grasp, means of communication with society are lacking and the progress in scientific careers often promotes academic merit rather than contribution to the society. In addition, decision makers often overrule technical advices provided by scientists. So, how can scientists reach other components of society? Citizen science is an example of a strategy to engage common citizens in science and it is intended to produce more outputs directed to the general public, with simple and objective vocabulary, reinforce the collaboration between public and research institutes and to respond objectively to people’s problems. These initiatives involve scientists and non-scientists in projects dealing with real-world questions, and it has been shown that they can be successful, not only in the strict science, but also in engaging non-scientists in the scientific process . In addition, there are also reports of amazing scientific discoveries performed by non-scientists . Another interesting example is the United Nations Initiative to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). This program consists on offering a financial compensation to entities from developing countries that are willing to reduce emissions resulting from deforestation or forest degradation . This program requires a continuous assessment of forest biomass and utilization, which is demanding in terms of human and technical resources. Danielsen et al.  showed that in India, Tanzania and Madagascar, local people can collect reliable data, of comparable quality to scientists, reinforcing the value of contributions from nonscientists to science-based programmes. The link between science and society has still tremendous potential and should be enhanced through an improved direct and objective communication.
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