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Funding Crunch, Politics Plague Science Council

LONDON-A financial crisis and the politics of apartheid, played out within a continuing battle between the developed and the developing nations, pose serious problems for the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). The Council, formed in 1931, is made up of 20 international scientific unions and 71 national academies and research councils representing millions of scientists in a variety of disciplines. For years it has worked to coordinate scientific research worldwide with UNESCO, wh

By | December 15, 1986

LONDON-A financial crisis and the politics of apartheid, played out within a continuing battle between the developed and the developing nations, pose serious problems for the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU).

The Council, formed in 1931, is made up of 20 international scientific unions and 71 national academies and research councils representing millions of scientists in a variety of disciplines. For years it has worked to coordinate scientific research worldwide with UNESCO, whose $35 million science budget dwarfs the Council's total budget of $2 million.

But UNESCO's financial problems, which stem in part from the withdrawal last year of the United States and the United Kingdom, have meant reducing its contribution to the Council by nearly one-half, to $329,000. The Council wants to fill the gap with direct grants, and has been offered $148,500 from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a similar amount from the Royal Society.

UNESCO's political problems, which triggered the withdrawals, are also being played out within the Council, most recently at the October meeting of ICSU's General Assembly. The presidential candidate chosen by ICSU's executive committee. Indian physicist M. Menon, faced a rare challenge from an outside' candidate, Swiss chemical engineer Howard Zollinger.

The immediate issue was the Indian government's anti-apartheid policies, which allow South African scientists to visit the country only if they have declared their opposition to apartheid. Many scientists who are opposed to the policy nonetheless refuse to sign such a pledge because of possible reprisals upon their return to South Africa. ICSU wants India to soften its position to conform to the Council's charter that promises "freedom of movement for scientists," and has prohibited it from hosting any ICSU-supported conference.

Although Menon was elected by a comfortable margin, the General Assembly agreed to extend its restrictions on India to any nation that refuses to permit the free movement of scientists across its borders. Menon has been a top science adviser to Indian prime ministers and the Council's representative organization, the Indian National Science Academy, is partly funded by the government.

The Assembly also urged the Council to continue its efforts to attract outside funding. Finance Director Richard Keynes said the Council's report on the environ mental consequences of nuclear war, ratified by the General Assembly, was "one of the really saleable products" that the Council can market to bolster its revenues.

Crump is a British freelance writer on development issues.

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