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[Beijing Forum 2019] Science, technology, health and society in the context of science culture

NOV . 07 2019
Peking University, Nov. 7, 2019: The 10th panel session of Beijing Forum 2019 was held on November 2, 2019 at Peking University. This session, themed “Science, Technology, Health and Society in the Context of Science Culture”, aimed at providing a sketchy picture of people’s life in the future.

At the panel session

The session started by two panels concerning science, technology and society in East Asia. Professor Song Sang-yong from Hanyang University and Professor Tsukahara Togo from Kobe University first shared their research findings on Joseph Needham, a world-renowned British biochemist and historian known for his writing on the history of Chinese science and technology. Professor Song Sang-yong gave a detailed introduction of Professor Needham’s experience in Northeast China and the DPRK, when he investigated the germ warfare in 1952. In his speech Professor Song also shared an interesting episode of Professor Needham who worked as a traffic warden along Yalu River during his journey from DPRK to China. Through such an interesting interlude, Professor Song hoped to give the audience a vivid description of the character of this prominent biochemist and also a concise description of the recent progress in exposing the inhumanity of Imperial Japanese Army’s Unit 731 and the biological war. Professor Tsukahara Togo, as a famous expert in science and technology history, focused more on Needham’s influence in Japan. In his speech, he introduced main branches of Chinese science and civilization in East Asia, including researchers, institutes and the pertinent history of the development of these institutes in China, Japan, and the South Korea.

Professor Liu Shiyong from Shanghai Jiaotong University then traced the root of the phrase “international health” in modern East Asia, and the conceptual differences between “international health” and “global health”. Professor Liu’s speech surrounded the sanitary practice of East Asia ever since 1921 and the impact of western ideas on local medical institutions.

Professor Fung Kam-Wing from the University of Hong Kong elaborated on the achievements of Gao Lu (1877-1947) and Zhu Kezhen (1890-1974), both of whom are founders of meteorology in modern China. Professor Fung introduced Gao Lu’s contributions in bringing astronomy into China and shifting the civil almanac to the internationally-adopted Gregorian Calendar. While Zhu Kezhen, a prominent geologist and meteorologist, has devoted himself in the building of weather observatory stations, the training of specialized talents, and the exploration of new fields in meteorology. By doing this, Professor Fung tried to clarify the establishment of the scientific community in the early twentieth-century of China and its cultural interaction with the enterprise of meteorology.

In the second part of the session, Professor Masashi Shirabe from Tokyo Institute of Technology analyzed the Japanese’s reaction towards the impact brought by He Jiankui, who carried out a controversial experiment of “genome-editing babies”. Professor Shirabe counted the Tweets that pertain to He’s experiment and contain the keyword “genome editing”. He found that the number of relevant Tweets has increased, which proved that He’s experiment had attracted the attention of the public. Moreover, the frequency of using objective words and emotional words loaded with subjective feelings were also observed. Professor Shirabe found that as soon as He’s experiment was exposed, the emotional words used in Tweets outnumbered the objective comments, as people could not wait to share their feelings towards such a contentious experiment.

Professor Zhou Cheng from Peking University shared his views on how the motivating factors in society contributed to Japan’s success in acquiring Nobel Prize. Up to now, 19 Japanese scientists have been awarded Nobel Prize. Professor Zhou gave a statistical description and introduction of these laureates’ educational background, the year when they reported their key findings, and how the Japanese society looked like in modern times. He emphasized Japanese’s long-existing respect towards the western science and the government’s endeavors in promoting the scientific development. He concluded that compared with direct training, improving public perceptions on innovation would be more efficient in training top talents and promoting the process of acquiring scientific achievements.

Professor Chen Fan from Northeastern University then introduced her breakthroughs in the socialization of technology and the Chinalization of technological innovation. She clarified from three perspectives, i.e. socialization of technology, socialization of technological innovation, and Chinalization of technological innovation.

Professor Chong Chaehyun from Sogang University proposed a novel idea of Confucian Sage AI. As the artificial intelligence has undergone a rapid development, more and more people have feared that AI would be a threat to humans. For Professor Chong, the concept “Confucian Sage” refers to the sage always behaving according to the noblest virtues such as integrity and acting with proper Qing (a traditional Chinese term referring to emotions such as sympathy towards others). In this regard, becoming a sage is to possess the appropriate morality and behave oneself properly. He also pointed out that constructing AI with ethical concerns represented by this “Confucian Sage” is a significant experiment for the flourishment of human civilization, and therefore, even if it finally turns out to be a failure, it could provide us with fruitful insights on the questions concerning moral education.

In the final part, Professor Cong Yali from Peking University analyzed the development of biomedical technology from the perspective of cultural differences. She mentioned that in the controversial fields of gene-editing tech and stem cell research, a consensus on whether this experiment is acceptable or not remains absent. Besides, she put forward that even though people would reach a consensus in the future, to what extent this consensus can reflect the views of different cultures is yet to be discussed. Professor Cong said that we cannot hold the consensus as an absolute standard and judge a culture based only on its deviations from the current mainstream values.

The panel session, as an important part of Beijing Forum, lasted for two days. A total of 33 scholars from China, Japan, America, and Britain shared their views on six topics, including science, technology, environment, health, medicine, and the history of the science culture.

Written by: Bai Qingwen
Edited by: Hu Rong, Huang Weijian