Davos Summit Opens Its Doors Wide To Science

More than ever before, the economic leaders gathered for this year’s annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos are turning their attention from finance to science – or at least recognizing how intimately the two are related.

Murray Gell-Man at the Annual Meeting 2012 of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Murray Gell-Man at the Annual Meeting 2012 of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Norbert Lossau

DAVOS - "Homo davosiensis," as participants of the annual summit in Davos, Switzerland have come to be called, is a species plagued with self-doubt – even as it maintains a blind faith in the benefits of globalization. Thanks to the flow of merchandise, data, and capita, participants agree, things seem to be working okay economically speaking, despite financial crises here and there that take even the experts, astonishingly enough, by surprise.

And yet questions still abound. How does one satisfy the need for energy in a booming global economy? How sure can we be of oil supplies? What dangers does cyberspace pose? Can climate change be brought under control? Now that dangerous causes of illness can spread rapidly around the world, is there increased danger of deadly pandemics? Maybe the world has already become so complex that mankind can no longer target and drive development but has become a ball tossed around by the processes of fate.

What these questions have in common is that they can't be answered by economic competence or political decision-making alone. Yes, "Homo davosiensis' has cottoned on to the fact that many processes in a globalized world come down to natural inevitabilities. Viruses, for example, aren't going to stop spreading because someone forbids them to. Nor are energy problems going to disappear. Even the ever darker cloud of climate change can only be understood in the context of the laws of nature even if these are still not understood in all their details by the experts.

Such are the themes on the agenda of this year's World Economic Forum, where more events than ever before are being devoted to scientific subjects. Indeed, "Homo davosiensis' is being asked to look beyond the confines of economics. The species has come to understand that many of the globalized world's challenges can only be mastered with the help of scientists, researchers and engineers.

Exploring energy and Internet

"The global energy context" was one of the first topics tackled on the very first day, even before German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave the opening speech. On the eve of the opening, American TV channel CNBC held a several-hour-long brainstorming session about "energy innovation" with creative conference participants. If there were no simple answers, there were many promising ideas.

Another major talking point in Davos this year is the subject of resources – water, food, primary goods, as are the risks of a world linked via the Internet. Invited to talk about the latter is 82-year-old Nobel laureate for physics Murray Gell-Mann, who after a career researching elementary particles founded the famous Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. The institute's website states that it is dedicated to "complexity research expanding the boundaries of science." Physics – where highly complex things are not exactly unusual -- is the point of departure but work at the institute is interdisciplinary.

Complexity can also concern financial markets or social processes. Quite naturally, a central question being raised at this year's gathering is how the Santa Fe researchers' models can be applied to describing and understanding economic systems.

Actually tallying up this year's WEF program shows that events with scientific and medical themes in fact outnumber events devoted to the euro crisis, an issue that many assumed would dominate discussions. The fate of the euro will not be decided in the snowed-under Graubünden mountain resort town of Davos. But if the world's economic leaders can learn something about the various interdependent scientific phenomena at play in our globalized world, the summit could end up proving far more valuable than if they had spent the whole time contemplating currency markets.

Read the original article in German

Photo – World Economic Forum

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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