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GESDA's best pick from the press, web and science journals, in relation to GESDA's thematic platforms

12-19 February 2021

A GESDA product curated by Olivier Dessibourg
Please note the next edition of the GESDA Best Reads
will be brought to you on 5 March 2021.


> How vulnerable is the world? // 12.02.2021, AEON
Sooner or later a technology capable of wiping out human civilization might be invented. How far would we go to stop it? Essay by Nick Bostrom, professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Oxford where he is director of the Future of Humanity Institute.

Operation Teapot was a series of fourteen nuclear test explosions conducted at the Nevada Test Site in the first half of 1955 (© All right reserved)


> Risk governance and the low-carbon transition // January 2021, EPFL/IRGC
This International Risk Governance Center (IRGC) policy brief focuses on the risks associated with the transition to a low-carbon society and economy. It incorporates views and insights from academia, industry, non-governmental organizations and policy-making institutions.

Related EPFL press release: The time to take low-carbon transition risks seriously is now


> Transformations within reach: pathways to a sustainable and resilient world // 25.02.2021, IIASA and ISC
It is clear that COVID-19 has drastically changed our world, but how can we use the lessons learnt to build a more resilient and sustainable future? The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the International Science Council (ISC) have drawn on the combined strengths and expertise of the two organizations to help find a way forward.


A universal coronavirus vaccine (EDITORIAL, by Wayne Koff and Seth Berkley) // 19.02.2021, Science

"COVID-19 has already produced catastrophic social, economic, and public health consequences, with more than 107 million documented cases and 2.3 million deaths. Although this pandemic is far from over, we now have the tools to end it, with the largest and most rapid global deployment of vaccines under way. That we got this far so quickly is remarkable, but next time we might not be so lucky. More virulent and deadly coronaviruses are waiting in the wings. Thus, the world needs a universal coronavirus vaccine. [...] This must be a worldwide effort. A roadmap is needed to lay out the core scientific issues as well as a framework for funding and sharing of information, data, and resources. [...] None of that can happen until all stakeholders, across governments, industry, academia, and nongovernmental organizations, recognize this as a global public health priority. [...]"

Related articles:
> Invest in vaccines now to prevent the next pandemic //18.02.2021, Nature
> How well will vaccines work? // 13.02.2021, The Economist


> A new space economy on the edge of liftoff // 17.02.2021, Morgan Stanley
Morgan Stanley explores the market forces, technology and imagination driving a new space age. Journey to see the far-reaching benefits space may hold in store, both in our solar system and here on earth.


> Rescue plan for nature: how to fix the biodiversity crisis // 17.02.2021, NewScientist
We’ve been ravaging the planet’s ecosystems for too long, but crucial decisions this year could be the turning point that help us restore our relationship with nature.

Related contents:
> Achieving the SDGs with biodiversity // 2021, Swiss Academy of Sciences
The conservation of biodiversity as one of the most potent levers to achieve sustainability. This factsheet from the Swiss Biodiversity Forum and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN Switzerland) aims to explain the importance of biodiversity for implementing all SDGs and to provide decision makers with options and entry points for transformative change.

> A marine biodiversity plan for China and beyond // 12.02.2021, Science

> Elizabeth Mrema (executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity) interview: We have to be optimistic about biodiversity // 17.02.2021, NewScientist

(© Jack Dykinga/
By Chorh Chuan Tan (Board Member)

> The 2020-2030 Decade of Healthy Ageing: a new UN-wide initiative // 14.12.2020, WHO
“This in initiative  spells out a multi-stakeholder, whole-of-society approach across the world to improve the lives of older people in a holistic and comprehensive manner”, says Chorh Chuan Tan

Toward clinical digital phenotyping: a timely opportunity to consider purpose, quality, and safety // 06.09.2019, Nature
“There is growing research interest in using data generated passively by personal electronic devices to provide insights into human health and disease. This is particularly important for areas such as mental health and psychiatric illness where there is a lack of more objective measures of improvement or deterioration. If continuous quantitation using patients’ own devices could produce digital markers that are useful in improving diagnosis and assessment of patients, this could in turn lead to more targeted treatments and better clinical monitoring. This review paper discusses opportunities to accelerate and scale the application and clinical impact of digital phenotyping.”

Artificial intelligence in health care: the hope, the hype, the promise, the peril (REPORT) // 2019, The National Academy of Sciences
This report includes: “Lessons learned from other industries; how massive amounts of data from a variety of sources can be appropriately analyzed and integrated into clinical care; how innovations can be used to facilitate population health models and social determinants of health interventions; the opportunities to equitably and inclusively advance precision medicine; the applicability for health care organizations and businesses to reduce the cost of care delivery; opportunities to enhance interactions between health care professionals and patients, families, and caregivers; and the role of legal statutes that inform the uptake of AI in health care” (as stated in the introduction).


Platform 1: Quantum Revolution & Advanced AI

Artificial intelligence

> Life in silico: are we close yet? (COMMENT) // 16.02.2021, PNAS

Who should stop unethical A.I.? // February 2021, The New Yorker
At artificial-intelligence conferences, researchers are increasingly alarmed by what they see.

A new Artificial Intelligence makes mistakes – on purpose // 13.02.2021, WIRED

AI can now learn to manipulate human behaviour // 10.02.2021, The Conversation

Insect brains will teach us how to make truly intelligent robots // 16.02.2021, NewScientist

How blockchain can make AI tech not just safer, but better // 15.02.2021, T_HQ

> Google revamps AI teams in wake of researcher’s departure // 17.02.2021, Bloomberg


Quantum network is step towards ultrasecure internet // 17.02.2021, Nature

> IBM’s new software will make quantum programs run 100 times faster // 15.02.2021, Singularity Hub
Related EPFL press release: IBM's Quantum computer links two quantum revolutions

Chinese company Origin develops system software for quantum computers // 10.02.2021, South China Morning Post

Wrinkling atom-thin layers of carbon could make tiniest chips yet // 16.02.2021, New Scientist

> Quantum computer chips manufactured using mass-market industrial fabrication techniques // 11.02.2021, Discover

(© Yurchanka Siarhei/Shutterstock)

Platform 2: Human Augmentation


> Give African research participants more say in genomic data, say scientists // 15.02.2021, Nature
Tensions are building in Africa over the rules that govern the donation of biological samples and data to research.

How a scientist is addressing inequity in human-genomics research // 11.02.2021, Nature
Samira Asgari describes how her research programme focuses on overlooked populations in human genomics.

Leopoldina advocates free access to gene databases for researchers // 15.02.2021, Leopoldina

Deep learning algorithms reveal the rules of gene regulation // 18.02.2021, Nature
Press release by Technical University of Munich

Using machine learning to create better gene therapies // 12.02.2021, Technology Networks/Wyss Institute at Harvard press release

Gene therapy trials for sickle cell disease halted after two patients develop cancer // 16.02.2021, Science

Massive national health study looks to tailor your diet to your genetic makeup // 16.02.2021, Singularity Hub 

Neanderthal-like ‘mini-brains’ created in lab with CRISPR // 11.02.2021, Nature


> Real-time dialogue between experimenters and dreamers during REM sleep // February 2021, Current Biology
Related NSF press release

How the brain makes sense of touch // 10.02.2021, EPFL press release

> Research shows how the brain reorganises old memories when new ones are made // 18.02.2021, University of Oxford press release

Different origins for similar brain circuits // 12.02.2021, Science
Gene expression profiles indicate separate evolution of cortical circuits in birds and mammals.


Longevity and health

A bold plan says the U.S. can end pandemic threats by 2030 // 10.02.2021, Future Human
An ‘Apollo Program’ could protect the population from man-made and natural biological threats.

Scientists are trying to spot new viruses before they cause pandemics // 15.02.2021, The New York Times

Aging: What underlies the mitochondrial stress response // 16.02.2021, EPFL press release

Tracing the activation mechanism of mitochondrial stress response and longevity in C. elegans 
(© Terytty Yang Li and Arwen W. Gao, EPFL)

Platform 3: Eco-regeneration & Geoengineering


> Self-healing device could power wearable devices with body heat // 22.02.2021, Chemical & Engineering News

UK plays catch up in global battery race // 18.02.2021, Science|Business


> Horizon Europe to fund research on genome editing in agriculture // 16.02.2021, Science|Business
The European Commission says the EU should look to the ‘major advances’ CRISPR gene editing provides to boost yields and reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture.


Climate and environment

Saying the quiet part out loud (REPORT) // 28.01.2021, The Breakthrough Institute
Historically, the US government has accelerated decarbonization through strategic investments in technology and infrastructure. Decarbonization of the American economy has depended upon the increasing affordability and scalability of lower-carbon alternatives to incumbent technologies: nuclear power plants, shale gas unlocked by the fracking revolution, solar photo-voltaic and onshore wind plants, lithium-ion batteries, and biotechnology and other innovations that have improved the productivity of American agriculture. These were all enabled by decades of sustained, technology-specific research, development, demonstration, and deployment efforts made by the federal and state governments.This is the essence of “quiet climate policy.” In this report, as elsewhere, we have referred to climate policy as “quiet” if it swims with the tide of existing sociopolitical institutions and economic growth, if it uses technology and infrastructure as its main lever, and if it disrupts, rather than exploits, political partisanship. Quiet climate policy contrasts with the increasingly polarizing visions of climate action emphasized in dominant debates over US climate politics.

Related articles:
Here’s Biden’s plan to reboot climate innovation // 11.02.2021, MIT Technology Review
It includes developing cheaper and better ways to capture carbon emissions or draw them out of the atmosphere.

A decline in emissions of CFC-11 and related chemicals from eastern China // 10.02.2021, Nature

Researchers discover an immense hydrocarbon cycle in the world's ocean // 11.02.2021, NSF press release

En juin prochain, ils vont tester comment bloquer le soleil pour réduire le réchauffement climatique // 14.02.2021, UP

> ‘We have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature’, UN chief says // 18.02.2021, GenevaSolutions
Related article: Leaders prepare to deliver ‘strong political message’ at UN Environment Assembly


> New funds could help grow Africa’s Great Green Wall. But can the massive forestry effort learn from past mistakes? // 11.02.2021, Science

An Israeli startup is 3D printing cultured ribeye steaks // 17.02.2021, Singularity Hub

> This hydrogen paste has a similar range to that of gasoline and could revolutionize the transport industry // 15.02.2021, Business Insider


Highlights from NASA’s successful landing on Mars // 18.02.2021, NY Times

> Could space greenhouses solve Earth's food crisis? // 12.02.2021,

Des humains sur Mars, une mission impossible ? // 15.02.2021, Le Monde
Related article: « Coloniser Mars ? Le fantasme d’un exode vers d’autres mondes nourrit nos imaginaires et rend supportable la destruction de notre environnement » // 14.02.2021, Le Monde

Russia, China to sign agreement on international lunar research station // 17.02.2021, SpaceNews

Space nuclear propulsion for Human Mars Exploration (2021) // January 2021, National Academies of Sciences

Platform 4: Science & Diplomacy

At 50, the UN Environment Programme must lead again // 16.02.2021, Nature
To protect the planet’s health, the agency must rediscover its capacity for connecting organizations.

Where do SDGs fit into new EU green finance rules? // 15.02.2021, Geneva Solutions

Global inequities and political borders challenge nature conservation under climate change // 16.02.2021, PNAS

> We need a global science-policy body on chemicals and waste (POLICY FORUM) // 19.02.2021, Science

WHO Special Envoy expects some form of a ‘vaccine passport’ in the future – but vaccine shortages are an immediate hurdle // 16.02.2021, Health Policy Watch

Make global health research equitable, urges fair initiative // 18.02.2021, Geneva Solutions

Russian academics decry law change that threatens scientific outreach // 12.02.2021, Nature
Researchers say that a proposed amendment could impede collaboration with foreign speakers and scientific literacy.

What the fear of China is doing to American science // 16.02.2021, The Atlantic
A campaign against Chinese scientists threatens the openness that defines U.S. universities.

Talks on future science partnership with China ‘not an easy exercise’ // 15.02.2021, Science|Business
EU wants better access terms for its researchers in China, but increased scrutiny of the relationship with Beijing makes the outcome uncertain.

Insights into Space law in China // 17.02.2021, SpaceWatch.Global

(© Corbis)


> Rien ne sera comme avant // 08.02.2021, RTS
La crise pandémique ne cesse de durer. Alors, comment se rendre à l'évidence que notre monde ne sera plus comme avant? Et qu'il ne l'était déjà plus, même avant la pandémie. Car le dérèglement climatique, par exemple, a commencé il y a déjà bien longtemps. Notre terre n'est plus un Jardin d'Eden. Comment l'accepter? Comment changer nos habitudes? Comment imaginer une autre façon de vivre? "Tribu" développe le sujet en compagnie de Bruno Latour qui publie "Où suis-je? Leçons du confinement à l'usage des terrestres".

« Nous sommes tous partie prenante de la dégradation de l’image de la science » // 17.02.2021, Usbek&Rica
Entretien avec le biologiste Marc-André Selosse, professeur au Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle et nouveau lauréat du Prix François Sommer Homme Nature, qui avance plusieurs pistes pour établir un véritable dialogue entre science et société.

How to be a good ancestor // October 2020, The Boston Globe
A new political movement makes policymakers imagine themselves as members of future generations
Traduction française par le Courrier International // 16.02.2021

The abuses of Popper // 16.02.2021, AEON
A powerful cadre of scientists and economists sold Karl Popper’s ‘falsification’ idea to the world. They have much to answer for.

Scientists refused Popper’s distinction between science and ethics in Science for the People (this issue from 1974). Courtesy the Wellcome Library


Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala : focus sur ses trois priorités pour l’OMC // 15.02.2021, Jeune Afrique
Première Africaine à la tête de l’institution, la Nigériane devra déployer ses talents de négociatrice pour relancer une organisation bien à la peine. Voici ses chantiers prioritaires. (Photo: AFP)
Related article: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala believes the WTO can change the world. But first it needs reform // 12.02.2021, TIME 

> Marie-Laure Salles dirige l’Institut des hautes études internationales et du développement à Genève // 08.02.2021, RTS
Sur la RTS, la directrice de l'Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID) s'exprimait sur le nouveau modèle de formation de ce que l'on appelle parfois les "business schools" et a confirmé son ambition de former des élites responsables pour un monde meilleur. (Photo: RTS)

> Fabiola Gianotti amongst newly elected individual members 2021 // 18.02.2021, Swiss Academy of Technical Sciences
The Swiss Academy of Technical Sciences SATW has admitted 14 new ordinary members. These have skills remarkable in the field of technical sciences. Among them, Fabiola Gianotti, DG of CERN, and GESDA Board member. (© CERN)

> EPFL2021: looking forward // 16.02.2021, EPFL
Martin Vetterli, President of the EPFL, and co-chair of GESDA's Academic Forum, presents his vision for EPFL over the four years of his second term of office: "As you will see, I see an ambitious role for our School in the future of our society", he underlines. (©EPFL)

> Federal Council appoints special representative for science diplomacy// 17.02.2021,
International Geneva provides a platform for Switzerland in promoting dialogue between the scientific and diplomatic communities. The Federal Council seeks to strengthen Geneva's role as a digital governance hub and has now appointed Ambassador Alexandre Fasel as the first special representative for science diplomacy in Geneva. (©FDFA)

> «Restaurants öffnen und Konzerte zulassen gäbe einen riesigen Benefit» // 16.02.2021, Tages-Anzeiger
Der Epidemiologe Marcel Tanner kritisiert die pessimistische Kommunikation der Taskforce, die er verlassen hat. Tanner will keine überstürzte Lockerung – aber ein Umdenken. (Photo: DR)


> Bill Gates and the problem with climate solutionism // 16.02.2021, MIT Technology Review
In his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Bill Gates takes a technology-­centered approach to understanding the climate crisis. He slices pollution into sectors by the size of their footprints—working his way from electricity, manufacturing, and agriculture to transportation and buildings. It’s helpful for distinguishing between the bigger technological problems (cement) and the smaller ones (airplanes). However, a lot of the necessary technology already exists. By focusing on technological innovation, Gates underplays the material fossil-fuel interests obstructing progress. Politics, in all its messiness, is the key barrier to progress on climate change. That’s why you should broaden your reading list to include Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel, The Ministry for the Future, set in 2025. His story asks about the politics necessary to solve the climate crisis, and he has certainly done his homework.

Related articles:
Bill Gates: ‘Carbon neutrality in a decade is a fairytale. Why peddle fantasies?’ // 15.02.2021, The Guardian
Bill Gates's guide to avoiding climate catastrophe // 12.02.2021, Science
How to avoid a climate disaster review: Bill Gates's call to arms // 13.02.2021, NewScientist
Innovation, not trees. How Bill Gates plans to save the planet (PODCAST) // 15.02.2021, The New York Times

And a message from Bill Gates, taken from The Insider Edition:

Free excerpts from my new climate book
I wrote the book because we’re at a unique moment when it comes to climate change. Thanks to all the public support for taking big steps to solve the problem, and ambitious government commitments to reduce emissions, we’re now ready for the next step: adopting plans to reach our goals. That’s what my book is—a practical plan for how we can avoid the worst climate outcomes.

If you want to try before you buy, I’ve shared lots of free content from the book on Gates Notes:

In addition, to coincide with the release of How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, we’ve revamped the website of Breakthrough Energy, a network of philanthropic programs, investment funds, and advocacy efforts to accelerate energy innovation at every step. If you’re not already a Breakthrough Energy Insider, sign up now to get updates on our work with governments, scientists, investors, and innovators around the world.” (©image: The Guardian)


> Can technology help us bring democracy into the 21st century? // 23.02.2021, 9pm CET, organized by Singularity University
You’re invited to join us for an exclusive conversation on the role that new technologies and tools play in helping strengthen democracy within your company and beyond.


Humanity, now more than ever, is facing global challenges (especially with regards to the Covid-19 crisis), putting people and the planet under stress and in great uncertainty. Simultaneously, the world is experiencing breakthroughs in science and technology at an unprecedented pace, which are sometimes hard to grasp. Anticipation, therefore, is key to build the future with the aim of early and fully exploiting this scientific potential for the well-being and inclusive development of all. The Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator was founded in Geneva in 2019 to tackle this issue.

GESDA's ambition is to first anticipate and identify these cutting-edge advances in science and technology throughout various domains (Quantum revolution & advanced AI, Human augmentation, Ecoregeneration and Geoengineering, Science and Diplomacy). Based on this scientific outlook, it will, with its Diplomacy community, translate potential leaps in science and tech into tools that can bring effective and socially-inclusive solutions to emerging challenges. Most importantly, this process will be achieved not only by scientists or diplomats, but will include actors of various professional origins and mindsets (from philanthropy, industry, citizens, to youth).

Forward Forward
Have a very nice and fruitful week! :-)
Copyright ©  2020, All rights reserved for the selection. All rights reserved by the respective media for articles reproduction.
Selection of an article in this press review doesn't mean endorsement by GESDA.

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