UNITED NATIONS EDUCATIONAL, SCIENTIFIC AND CULTURAL ORGANIZATION
Address by Mr Federico Mayor, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at the General Assembly of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) Atlanta (Georgia), USA, 19 March 1999
Distinguished IUPAP delegates and observers, Dear Colleagues,
I am pleased to address this distinguished Assembly of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. I see gathered here many good friends and long-standing partners of UNESCO. This comes as no surprise! There exists a long-standing tradition of co-operation between UNESCO and IUPAP. Our relations have always been excellent. IUPAP is an important member of ICSU, the International Council of Science, one of UNESCO's main partners in the implementation of our science program. Many of you come from institutions and organizations which also have close ties of their own to UNESCO.
Our cooperation has been particularly close in recent months: The 20th IUPAP International Conference on Statistical Physics took place at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris last July and the IUPAP International Nuclear Physics Conference followed in August. I was delighted that the international community of physicists chose to meet at UNESCO. It was a visible reminder of our commitment to the promotion of international collaboration in science. Many participants from developing countries and countries of the former Soviet Union attended both conferences. With these participants in mind, I decided early on to make UNESCO's conference facilities available free of charge. We agreed with the organizers that the funds thus saved would be used to provide grants to participants who could not otherwise attend. I am pleased to say that several hundred participants were helped in this way.
I know that this was very important to you, too. One third of IUPAP's member countries are in the developing world. We share a commitment to the full internationalization of scientific activities: If any country or region is excluded from scientific research, education or training, it is a loss for science as a whole. This is a matter to which I will return later, when I examine the issues on the agenda of the World Conference on Science.
Here, in this assembly, let me point to another example of our cooperation: The presence of physicists representing countries which are not - or should I say, are not yet - members of the Union. I am glad that UNESCO's financial support helped make this possible.
UNESCO and the international physics community collaborate on numerous activities. For instance, everyone in this audience is familiar with the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics. This joint centre of UNESCO and the IAEA functions with the generous financial support of Italy. Most of you have visited the centre and participated in its activities. The ICTP has served as a model for several other centres. Iowa State University and UNESCO jointly set up and operate the International Institute of Theoretical and Applied Physics located at the University's campus in Ames, Iowa. And, we are now trying to help establish the Asia Pacific Centre for Theoretical Physics in Seoul, Republic of Korea.
The Pierre Auger Observatory project, headed by Professor James Cronin from the University of Chicago, is a UNESCO-sponsored project. It hinges on co-operation between industrialised, emerging and developing countries. The project aims to detect the highest energy cosmic rays with two giant detectors, one of them located in the South, in the province of Mendoza in Argentina, the other in the North, in the United States. Last October, a key meeting took place at UNESCO, where scientists from the Auger Collaboration and representatives of national science agencies gathered to consult on the organization, management and funding of the project. President Carlos Menem from Argentina and I attended the final session, when the participants reported that they had completed work on the Agreement that will implement the project. And in fact, just a few days ago, on 17 March, the ground-breaking ceremony took place in Mendoza, Argentina - the construction of the Southern Auger Observatory has now begun.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to move on now to the topic of the World Conference on Science, in Budapest next June.
In essence, the Conference will be an important forum at which scientists, political decision-makers and representatives of society at large can together discuss the service that science is to provide to society in the years and decades to come. It is an opportunity to plan the means by which this can be most effectively carried out on the global scale. But before I go on let me say something about what the Conference is not. It is not a science conference in the traditional sense - an event at which the latest research and findings are reported by scientists for scientists. Rather, it will address the relationship - or rather relationships, for there are many - between science and society.
It is not to be an intergovernmental conference in the normal United Nations mould. Instead, it will be an occasion at which scientists and all those with a stake in science, including governments, can discuss together, on equal terms, the way in which science can best meet the expectations and needs of society. And how science can be supported and given the resources to do so.
UNESCO is fortunate in having as its major partner in the process the International Council for Science representing the scientific community world-wide. In this, as in so many of our activities, ICSU is a natural collaborator. UNESCO and ICSU have planned the World Conference on Science together, and we are confident that the event will be all the more useful and relevant as a result. A range of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations have been involved in the planning of component events.
The Conference will essentially look at the Natural Sciences and their interface with society, and will use the Social and Human Sciences to investigate the relationships.
The primary aim of the World Conference on Science is to commit all parties involved -- and especially governments -- to concrete objectives aimed at securing the future of basic science. That goal requires a radical shift in thinking about the 'contract' between science and society because this contract is what justifies and gives direction to public support for science.
In particular, a truly global perspective must take over from narrow sectoral and national mind-sets: We must think globally and act globally. Science is not international only in the abstract: Its international dimension belongs to a real world with real problems, and to which scientific knowledge is of critical importance. Without a truly global distribution of scientific skills, instruments and input, science will continue to miss out on crucial resources.
UNESCO and ICSU have been seeking to identify the best possible set of initiatives to begin implementing the general principles that will be proclaimed in Budapest. This process has been dynamic and participatory, with proposals coming primarily from scientists and science policy-makers throughout the international scientific community.
One task of the Conference will be to reassess the importance of science. It will look at its past achievements and future potential in the context of a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world. This is essential because we face a paradox: We need scientific knowledge more than ever, to meet the challenges of complexity - for example, to understand climate change or combat newly emergent diseases. Yet the link between scientific knowledge and social progress has never been more problematic: Public concern about the implications of certain scientific developments is reflected in a growing interest in the ethical dimension of science and its applications. At the same time, public confidence has been eroded by the spectacle of science appearing on both sides of adversarial disputes.
The public no longer equates "change" necessarily with "progress", or "scientific knowledge" with the "public good". This is a fundamental shift in perception of the role of science.
It coincides with an equally radical shift in the respective roles of public and private funding of research. Much of the science which is now private-sector driven was originally developed through public sector research. I believe that a significant reduction in either publicly-funded basic research or in the free circulation of scientific knowledge would have disastrous consequences. The world cannot afford to lose the public - and public-spirited - foundations of science without ultimately jeopardising its own survival. The most crucial social challenges requiring scientific input are global ones. But global solutions will not emerge by accident, as spin-offs from research focused only on the most lucrative or prestigious areas of science. It has been said that 'user-led' science will guide science policy for the public good. But if that term means nothing more than 'consumer-led' - science for those with buying power - it certainly cannot guarantee the public good! We have to make it clear in Budapest that if science is to tackle major global challenges, it cannot ignore those 'users' whose voice is scarcely heard at present. The success of efforts to solve development, health or environmental problems depends on the implementation of solutions by all individuals and communities, not only those who play a consumer role. The silent millions living in extreme poverty are important stakeholders in science and have to be taken into account.
The World Conference on Science will - I hope - provide a key opportunity to establish a common framework for science in the next century in which social needs, market forces and ethical concerns all find their place. It will provide an opportunity for the scientific community to voice a renewed commitment to society. At the same time, a similarly renewed commitment to science by both politicians and the general public will help create a clearer consensus on priorities.
An Editorial in the influential journal Nature late last year began with the words: "Next year's World Conference on Science is a unique chance to reassess the dynamics of international scientific co-operation and address the challenges it currently faces." With the help of the scientific community, I am convinced that we can exploit that chance to the full.
I would like to take this opportunity to say a few words about our Host country's involvement in this process. As you all know, the United States is still not a Member State of UNESCO, in spite of President Clinton's repeated approval of an eventual return to our Organization. But I have to say that this has been no obstacle at all to the input of valuable advice we have been getting from ICSU family members here, especially the National Academy of Sciences. And I am delighted that the White House Science Advisor Neal Lane will not only be heading an impressive delegation, but will make a keynote address at the opening session in Budapest.
In conclusion, let me wish you all a very successful meeting and also address my congratulations to the American Physical Society on the occasion of its Centenary! The Society is the most international of the national physical societies and the truly international participation in the anniversary celebrations that are soon to begin easily proves this. Happy birthday APS!