Launch of the Fellowship of the International Science Council

by Sir Peter Gluckman
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Speech at the launch of the Fellowship of the International Science Council, Paris

Sir Peter Gluckman
9 June 2022

The International Science Council was born in 2018 but was built on a long history of its predecessor natural and social science organizations. But the formation of the ISC was more than just a much-needed merger of the social and natural sciences; it was recognition that the voice of science in societal affairs needed to be clearer, louder, more urgent and had to cut through an increasingly confused information space and political context.  This was encapsulated in the tag line and vision statement of the new organization: the global voice for science.

Everyone at this event recognizes that science is key to our future health, our environment and our planet, our economy and indeed our broader wellbeing as individuals, societies and cultures.  But science also has its challenges. Not all technology is used wisely — for example the digital world may have many positives but we are confronting an enormous number of negatives.

We have seen in the last decade the increasing politicization of science, with science or at least aspects of science being rejected as a badge of partisanship. We have also seen that the information environment has been increasingly contested with disinformation and misinformation, and that science’s position as the source of reliable knowledge about our world has also been increasingly contested. At the same time, science is yet to fully demonstrate its contract with society. It must continue to evolve — and indeed it is doing so — and it must engage better with other forms of knowledge. This is beautifully described in the ISC discussion paper Science as a Global Public Good which I encourage all to read.

We see a common cluster of issues where science, society, diplomacy, and politics come together. Clearly sustainability and human development are central, but the issues extend to areas such as social cohesion, supply line security and conflict resolution. The ISC has a major role at this nexus in being the global NGO representing science. The ISC, in accepting that role, must live up to its vision of being the global voice for science.

This is easy to say but it has several components. A voice without an audience is not heard.

A major part of the ISC’s agenda is building that audience with the multilateral community, and the Board has spent much of the past two days discussing how to do so including creating a presence in both New York and Geneva. Secondly, we need to build our role as the provider or brokerage mechanisms between the science community and the policy community at every level, and this means better engaging the 7 million scientists from around the world. Part of this is encapsulated in the ISC’s launch of a Commission headed by Irina Bokova and Helen Clark to explore how to achieve mission led actionable research that can accelerate progress on core issues in the global agenda.

Our recent report on the Covid-19 pandemic, entitled Unprecedented and Unfinished: COVID-19 and Implications for National and Global Policy, has highlighted how we can make a difference – the report encapsulates so much more broadly than other reports the range of issues that policy makers will confront over the next decade as a result of  Covid. The breadth of that report could not have been achieved without the breadth and depth of the scientific community across all its disciplines, both natural and social, that the ISC can bring to bear.

In the last 100 days we have had to turn our attention to Ukraine and the impact of a terrible conflict on the ability of science to sustain progress on the sustainability agenda. We have been heavily involved in assisting in issues of displaced scientists. But already we are being called upon to take on a role in a track 2 science diplomacy in thinking through the road ahead in what, sadly, will be a more divided world.

Tonight, we launch the Fellowship of the ISC.

Why have we created the Fellowship? The ISC is an umbrella organization; its members are scientific bodies, not individuals, and we want to clearly recognize those scientists who have and continue to contribute to the global voice for science. In that way we expand our footprint and our voice. Science needs champions, not just those who receive high profile scientific prizes but champions who can give voice to the global voice for science.

Tonight, we announce an initial 66 Fellows. The Fellowship rules require at least 40% of its Fellows to be from the global south and at least 40% to be women. In due course through a robust process this will increase to about 600 active Fellows. The 66 announced tonight include some younger scientists who, through their roles at the Global Young Academy, have already demonstrated their global contributions.

We have appointed Fellows such as Cédric Villani, the Fields medalist, and Paul Nurse, the Nobel laureate, who have done much to help the ISC in its early stages. We have also appointed younger Fellows such as Connie Nshemereirwe, a Ugandan science-policy communicator, and Tolullah Oni, from Nigeria and now the UK, who have been visionary in their leadership roles at the Global Young Academy.

These Fellows will be central to the ISC’s voice becoming louder and more effective. They will help us promote science as a global public good and ensure the voice of science is heard more clearly in society and in policy making.

I thank all our foundation Fellows for the contributions they have already made, and for those they will make in the future.

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