Can research change the world?

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Research Publishing
By: Mariette DiChristina, Thu Jun 28 2018
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Author: Mariette DiChristina

Editor-in-Chief, Scientific American

As cities expand in our increasingly urban world, we see both new challenges and opportunities—the subjects of a meeting next week of government leaders and industry experts in Singapore called the World Cities Summit (WCS). We at Springer Nature believe that great multidisciplinary research needs to be informing these discussions. 

That’s why I’m co-hosting Science and the Sustainable City, an event co-located with the WCS and part of a bigger effort at Springer Nature to connect people across disciplines to tackle the world’s biggest societal challenges, to find out what scientists think, and to learn how business and policy leaders can best use research to inform policies, programs and technologies.


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It’s an area I’m really passionate about. As Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American, one of the great privileges of my job is traveling to many events around the world that bring together great minds from across sectors to discuss big problems facing humanity, and thinking through - with these experts – how science can help them to get more done.

I also often talk to researchers, across many disciplines, who know the research that they’re doing would be valuable to those making policy or developing business solutions to emerging trends. But they don’t always know how to get their research into the hands of the people having those conversations and making those decisions. I have no doubt that many of the answers to the world’s toughest challenges are already out there, being worked on in labs and institutes around the globe. But a spark needs a catalyst to make a fire. As publishers, we are constantly thinking about how to make the research we publish have as a great an impact in the real world as possible and we have the capacity to act as that catalyst.

I have no doubt that many of the answers to the world’s toughest challenges are already out there, being worked on in labs and institutes around the globe. But a spark needs a catalyst to make a fire. As publishers, we are constantly thinking about how to make the research we publish have as a great an impact in the real world as possible and we have the capacity to act as that catalyst.

We launched Springer Nature Grand Challenges in 2017 as a way to help strengthen connections between science, policy and business, and to help support researchers in turning their insights into action. We are initially focusing on five priority global challenges: Sustainable Cities; Global Health; Climate Change; the Digitally Transformed World; and the Food-Energy-Water Nexus. These are ‘grand’ challenges because making meaningful progress against them requires strong, sustained interaction among professional communities and among the research fields themselves. The approach to these issues must be multidisciplinary, so another of our goals is to break down disciplinary silos, both in our own publishing and across the global research community. 

One of the things we know about human endeavors is that we always do better when we’re working together. A major inspiration for the program was responding to the following questions: ‘How can we join things up for people? How can we join them up and bring them closer together?’ And finally, ‘How can we share information in an accessible way to help the world grapple with some of its most challenging problems?’

We’re working on a few different areas to support the research community in their mission to change the world. We’re fostering cross-journal collaborations within Springer Nature and collecting together research, analysis and commentary on key topics – regardless of traditional research boundaries – to tackle challenges in a less siloed, discipline-focused way and better facilitate discussion and change. We’re also fostering cross-departmental collaboration within Springer Nature, which has resulted in more complementary editorial strategies to address complex issues such as climate change and global health. And we’re encouraging discussion about the importance of policymakers engaging with science on a regular basis, as well as the role of media and publishing companies in disseminating research findings in an accurate and unbiased way. This week I’m in Tokyo and delighted to have been invited to be taking part in a conversation series at the United Nations University on just this topic. 

I have been really inspired by how excited everybody in our organization has been to participate in this initiative. This is a real reflection of the mission-driven nature of the company: that we really want to benefit the communities we serve with our publishing. I’ve been extremely gratified that we have people coming up to us asking how they can support the Grand Challenges initiative as well. It really has the capacity to bring people together, not just at Springer Nature, but across the globe.

I have been really inspired by how excited everybody in our organization has been to participate in this initiative. This is a real reflection of the mission-driven nature of the company: that we really want to benefit the communities we serve with our publishing.

We hope that, by bringing groups together in new ways, we can help to transform research into effective policies and practices to tackle issues as broad as improving life in cities and reducing urban impact on the rest of the planet. The Science and the Sustainable City Summit is an important milestone for us in doing this, and I can’t wait to hear in Singapore about what others are doing to facilitate positive change for all of us to live more sustainably on our beautiful—and finite—world.

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Author: Mariette DiChristina

Editor-in-Chief, Scientific American

Mariette DiChristina is the Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American and Executive Vice President of Editorial & Publishing for Nature Research’s Magazines division. She is the eighth (and first female) Editor-in-Chief of the magazine that is considered one of the oldest and most popular science magazines in the world. Ms. DiChristina has also been selected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was both an adjunct professor and visiting scholar at New York University, and has served on various boards/committees. She has been widely recognized for her formidable role in digital publishing and media.

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