Statecraft and the Drift away from Humanities....



This graph is from the WIPO 2022 report. It is worrisome as the publications in humanities (and social sciences) are being drowned out by the focus on STEM subjects. This gradual change is from years of focus on TIMMS and PISA rankings (and hence national competitiveness) of countries.


TIMMS began in 1995 (founded in Amsterdam by IEA) and assesses Grades 4 and 8 in maths and science (humanities and social sciences missing). PISA (conducted by OECD and launched in 1997) focuses on mathematics, science, and reading (note social sciences and humanities are missing). PISA assesses 15-year-olds.




Every year, in the USA, for example, children know less about geography and history. This fact is measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (counted from the 1970s in Grades 4, 8, and 12). These changes have been magnified due to the COVID disruptions (scores for the USA here). But with the world as inter-connected as it is, is this something we can afford?


Even scarier, in STEM, there is an increasing shift to applied sciences, though we know basic sciences are critical to the creative funnel of innovation. This shift has been seen with the Bayh-Dole Act introduced in the USA in 1980! The private sector often benefits from decades of investment in government funding. These spillovers from basic sciences to commercialisation can easily take 60-40 years for large scale adoption. So the lack of research grants or educational funding for humanities and arts and the focus on applied sciences is a precedent that would hurt our long-term development. For example, over 80% of R&D funding in the USA is now in applied research!



The humanities allow us to explore beyond the narrow lens of science – into areas like philosophy, ethics, governance, and even those subjects that inspire us, like arts. Science often deals in binaries – right or wrong, proved or not-proved, but humanities and social science deal with shades of grey (see picture below).




We learn by embracing the past - through the interpretative nuances of languages and culture. These are so important in this time of global unrest. I love the thinking of the late Sir Ken Robinson, who spoke passionately about creativity and the need to balance science, arts, technology, values, and individual talent! The need for this balance was evident during the pandemic – a science lens was not enough – it was about more than health – it was about people’s livelihoods, education, travel, well-being – we urgently need systems thinking! We had unexpected moments of joy during these tough times! Hence, viral examples of lockdown music produced by Gary Barlow (@GaryBarlow) on social media, the Dubai concert with David Guetta, or the Italians singing from the balcony – all of these cheered our spirits and gave us HOPE. Still others drowned their sorrows in Netflix! In some examples, technology was the backdrop, that allowed these things to happen.


But creativity and imagination is also needed to manage the research to market pipeline. What are the policies we need? Here is another interesting graph from WIPO. Policies play an essential role in guiding innovation – it acts as a sponsor, guardrail, and arbitrator for the people and planet. But for this to happen, you need a highly skilled and empowered public sector, not just one that responds to public sector lobbying or falls to the pressures of competitiveness. It would help if you had a public sector built around foresight, statecraft, political acumen, and diplomacy. Finally, you need a public sector with a strong focus on shared values. This means you first need to embrace the diversity, to then created a shared set of values and have a common purpose!



Let us acknowledge the importance of subjects like humanities and social sciences, the right and left brain. With the increasing adoption of AI, everything has become about numbers and relationships. People are complex. We are not machines. Instead of coming out of a pandemic celebrating, we are sorely in need of statecraft skills! This skill needs substance behind it - subjects like politics, geography, and history. Statecraft is an art more extensive than diplomacy working on macro-problems. It is statecraft that will help us through the global crisis.


Statecraft is stronger than diplomacy….in its present meaning, it includes the international arena, as well as the execution of these strategies by diplomats….when neutrality is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, when statecraft is evading the economic and cultural aspects of social existence, as well as political and military, when great problems of domestic life must be reconsidered with regard to their bearing on the international situation, few, if any can doubt its importance. The successful or unsuccessful conduct of statecraft may settle the fate of our way of life; and given the possibilities of modern war, it may in a deeper sense settle the question if any type of civilized life…can survive.” M. A. Kaplan.