The InterAcademy Council: Inventing a New Global Organization

Brad FitzpatrickLast month, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan presided over the launch of a report by the InterAcademy Council, Inventing a Better Future: A Strategy for Building Worldwide Capacities in Science and Technology.1 The report is a call for action to strengthen national scientific capabilities throughout the world and to foster new opportunities for cooperation among the world's scientific and technological communities.This is the first report issued by the InterAcademy Council,2 an or

By | March 1, 2004

<p/>

Brad Fitzpatrick

Last month, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan presided over the launch of a report by the InterAcademy Council, Inventing a Better Future: A Strategy for Building Worldwide Capacities in Science and Technology.1 The report is a call for action to strengthen national scientific capabilities throughout the world and to foster new opportunities for cooperation among the world's scientific and technological communities.

This is the first report issued by the InterAcademy Council,2 an organization created in 2000 by the world's academies of sciences to provide expert knowledge and advice to the World Bank and other international

Inventing a Better Future recommends that every nation develop a science and technology (S&T) strategy – one that reflects local priorities and specifies available funding – in consultation with that country's science, engineering, medical, and industrial communities. Each nation's strategy should include support for basic science, education, and training, which will allow it to achieve local competence in selected areas of national priority. The panel suggests that developing nations commit a minimum of 1–1.5% of their gross domestic product to science and technology, and it stresses the critical importance of using competitive merit reviews to allocate those resources (see Snapshot, p. 12).

Enhancing local S&T capacity is essential because trends in the development and use of new technologies have left a growing gap between the "have" and "have not" nations. The world has entered a vicious cycle in which developing countries that lag in S&T capacity are falling further behind, as industrialized nations with financial resources and a trained scientific work force exploit new knowledge and technologies more quickly and intensively.

Other keys to success include national policies that help develop, attract, and reclaim S&T talent; regional cooperation in training scientists; the creation of strong universities and autonomous research and training centers of excellence; and integration of a nation's talent pool into regional or global "virtual networks of excellence" in areas of prime S&T interest. Clear national legal frameworks that promote and protect public–private partnerships are also critical.

The report concludes: "[Developing countries] must do so soon through their own focused efforts, with help from their friends. Given the current rate of change in science and technology, there is no time to waste if the majority of humanity is not to suffer further marginalization."

The concept for the InterAcademy Council, as an organization of national scientific academies, arose initially from the UN secretary general – that scientists must play a greater role in shaping public policies that affect the future of humanity. The creation of the InterAcademy Council resulted from the good will and dedication of scientific leaders worldwide, as well as from the foresight of a philanthropist who helped to make this effort possible.

During 1998, I discussed the need for such an organization with Eugene Garfield.* In March 1999, the Eugene Garfield Foundation awarded a grant to the US National Academy of Sciences, establishing the Eugene Garfield Fund for International Programs. These funds provided critical support during 1999–2004 for the InterAcademy Council planning and development effort.

Over the next 17 months, representatives of national academies from all regions of the world met to reach agreement on the mission and operating procedures of this proposed new organization; members also consulted with UN and World Bank leaders, officers of international scientific organization, and other experts. In May 2000, the InterAcademy Council was created by the world's scientific academies; its board of directors, who serve 5-year terms, includes scientific academies from 14 countries and the Third World Academy of Sciences. Goverdhan Mehta, former president of the Indian National Science Academy, and I serve as InterAcademy Council co-chairs.

By September 2000, the InterAcademy Council was established legally within the Netherlands. Financial support for InterAcademy Council projects comes from various sources, including the government of the Netherlands, scientific academies, and grants from Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and Melinda Gates Foundation.

A second InterAcademy Council report, to be released this summer, will address how science and technology can contribute to improving agricultural productivity in Africa. Future InterAcademy Council reports – which are subjected to rigorous external review before they are released publicly – will focus on topics such as global transitions to sustainable energy resources and revitalizing the role of science in the World Heritage Natural Sites.

Bruce Alberts is president of the United States National Academy of Sciences.

Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube
Advertisement

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
Advertisement
Advertisement
Mettler Toledo
Mettler Toledo
Life Technologies