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The future of scientific research: different disciplines and international relations

Aspen Institute Italia Award
Rome, 26/10/2016, Aspen Institute Italia Award
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The presentation of the Aspen Institute Italia Award for scientific research and collaboration between Italy and the United States provided an opportunity to celebrate two of the Institute’s core values: that of promoting transatlantic relations and that of facilitating interdisciplinary debate.

The debate at the event raised issues endogenous to the scientific community – such as the growing methodological convergence and the increasingly crossdisciplinary and transnational nature of research – as well as others "exogenous" to it, such as the relationship between science and "open society", and between science and ethics (in line with Aspen Institute Italia’s humanistic tradition), along with the relationship between science and international relations. It was felt that this latter point deserves emphasis in the interests of promoting transatlantic relations, which are at the heart of the Institute’s mission, especially in an ever more fragmented geopolitical and geoeconomic climate.

In its first year, the prize has been awarded to ten scientists from five research institutes (three American and two Italian) who are the co-authors of a study entitled "Spatiotemporal spread of the 2014 outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia and the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions: a computational modelling analysis". The work was judged as meriting the Award on the basis of its scientific value, its concrete application to a problem of major health and social importance, and its noteworthy innovative and interdisciplinary significance. Indeed, the study falls within the new scientific branch of computational epidemiology – where life sciences meet sophisticated mathematical techniques and epidemiology – which collects field data. A computer is then used to model the movements of an affected population and the transmission mechanisms of a disease in order to simulate and understand the effectiveness of various epidemic containment interventions.

From the perspective of the study’s potential applications, the results obtained offer a significant contribution to the formulation of intervention plans to stem future epidemics of Ebola, which could break out again in Africa, while limiting their impact in other parts of the world such as Italy or the United States. In the event of a renewed "war" on the disease arising, the study provides tools to predict the enemy's next moves, plan the allocation of resources, optimize vaccine distribution, and forecast future scenarios.

The Call for Entries for the next edition of the Award (2017) is now available on the Institute’s website.