Is it an art or a science?

They may sound more like science fiction than science fact but I’ve recently been having fun reading futurology reports. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, Wikipedia defines futures studies or futurology as ‘the study of postulating possible, probable, and preferable future, and the worldviews and myths that underlie them’.

Science fiction writers, such as Arthur C Clarke, have often predicted things that have come to pass. But futurology’s focus is on the predicting rather than the story, and there is much debate around whether futurology is an art or a science. I’d personally hesitate to call it a science. In fact, I’d simply refer to it as forward thinking or strategic foresight. Whatever you call it, and even if you are not a strategist who regularly seeks this type of information, there is often lots in these futurology reports that the average person will find of interest and at the very least the data are likely to spark debate.

Luckily, the start of every year, once we’ve had a few weeks to settle in and the hangover of the holidays has worn off, seems to be the season for these types of reports. They seem to sprout from everywhere about all manner of topics and, in general, make for very interesting reading.

Most futurology reports tend to focus their predictions or the next decade but some go as far as 25 or even 50 years in to the future. Obviously the further they look, the wilder the predictions seem, but only time will tell. What I find an interesting exercise  is to go back to reports from 5–6 years ago and see whether the forecast is anywhere near becoming a reality. This week, I’ve looked back at the pharma futurology report published by telecommunications company BT in 2007. The report makes its forecasts for 2016 and beyond and, as we are only 3 years away from that now, it should be easy to see how well the predictions hold up.

In 2007, the report predicted that a lot of the drive for change for the pharma industry would come from new technologies. Faster and more powerful computers would enable researchers to perform more calculations and a significant part of the testing would be done virtually. Better networks would allow secure and instantaneous data and information sharing. So far so good, but I’d argue that this evolution is not exclusive to the pharma industry. However, what is particular to the industry is the application of these technologies to health monitoring, drug development, medical therapies or clinical trials. Significant progress has been made in these areas and the evolution predicted very clearly reflects the way things have gone. In fact, it is very much spot on. So, although it is in my opinion  neither an art nor a science, it seems there is a place for futurology.

Of course we are not futurologists and speculating about the next decade is a big ask but, to make things easy, perhaps we should concentrate on the next couple of years, how will the chemical world change and what will be the hot topics or key areas of development? Will it be nuclear energy? Perhaps climate change (again)? What do you think we should be keeping an eye on so that we can update you, our readers, as stories develop?