2020 Was an Unprecedented Year for ISC: Annual Report of ISC

The International Science Council (ISC) has issued its Annual Report 2020, which can be viewed at

This article aims to introduce its contents from my own point of view. For more information about ISC, you can refer to several articles in the past issues of ICIAM Dianoia. (See also articles in this issue.) For example, Maria Esteban wrote ``The Extraordinary General Assembly of the International Science Council'' in the April issue this year, while Barbara Keyfitz provided  ``The International Science Council and Transdisciplinarity'' in the same issue. Hence, the reader who wants to know what is ISC is recommended to read any of these. Here, I try to summarize the annual report briefly (the report has 57 pages!) and to express how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the ISC activities. 

In fact, the front cover of the Report is illustrated by this picture which shows workers adding finishing touches to a mural outside the Tambaram railway station in India, to raise awareness and promote vaccination against COVID-19. Needless to say, in the year 2020 people all around the globe faced the crisis caused by COVID-19. Science, scientists and ISC itself are no exception. A message from President Daya Reddy, and CEO Heide Hackmann of ISC, which is put at the top of the Report, as well as the first section titled "COVID-19: Turning the crisis into collaborative opportunity" describe them. The President and CEO tell it as a year of unprecedented global disruption. You can also be aware of the fact that the 2020 Timeline of ISC listed on p. 5 shows a big space between July and November. This suggests international bodies like ISC were severely affected in their activities with the difficult conditions for overseas travel. We, ICIAM, ourselves had to hold the 2020 board meeting virtually in September, instead of the usual face-to-face meeting. 

However, ISC did not take the period only passively. Section 1 expresses 'the current crisis as a unique opportunity to rethink business models and shape a new start for more sustainable and future-proofed economies" and furthermore it is a time "to rebuild a world that is simultaneously more sustainable and resilient". One of ISC's activities to cope with this is the opening of "Bouncing Forward Sustainably: Pathways to a post-COVID World", the IIASA-ISC Consultative Science Platform on the Web. (IIASA is the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, located in Laxenburg, Austria.) The ISC also joined the World Pandemic Research Network (WPRN) as a supporting partner in May 2020. I point out that ICIAM also opened "Mathematics of COVID-19" in our Web page. These activities have contributed to disseminate scientific facts and data for citizens, policy makers and scientists in different fields of study. Remember the ISC slogan "Scientific knowledge, data and expertise must be universally accessible and their benefits universally shared". These suggest that "the digital tools and technological options being developed today are affordable and accessible for all". In mid-March, the President and CEO wrote a message to ISC Members and the broader international scientific community on the unfolding COVID crisis as "It is a moment to remind policy-makers of the importance of evidence-based decisions, and to work with them in preparing for other upheavals, current and future". The section also describes about COVIDEA, the COVID Education Alliance, which was created to make education systems agile in the face of external shocks and fully adapted to digital transformation. Hence we can summarize that the ISC activities could contribute to the aim proposed and expected in the initial stage of the pandemic. Of course, the COVID crisis is still serious in this year and the ISC efforts are continuing. 
Section 2 of the Report is assigned to the subject"`Freedom and Responsibility in Science". ISC has a Committee for Freedom and Responsibility in Science (CFRS), whose activities in 2020 are the main part of the section. The section has two subsections which describe "Advocating for and defending scientific freedom and the responsible practice of science", and "New initiatives to strengthen scientific freedom and responsibility in the contemporary world". In particular I took note that CFRS responded to freedom and responsibility cases in Hungary, Iran, Turkey, Russia, China, USA, Greece, Brazil, Venezuela and Nicaragua in 2020. Also it must be noted that CFRS is preparing a new document, Scientific Freedom and Responsibility in the 21st Century: a contemporary perspective on the responsible practice of science. Most likely its draft will be released to call discussion of our community and we must be prepared for it. 
Section 3 is devoted to the subject "The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development". It starts with the description: 

While the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly dominated discussions about science for policy in 2020, with one decade left to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda, the ISC continued to support the production of scientific knowledge for advancing sustainable development.

I think that almost all of us are aware of the fact of recent abnormal climate phenomena and serious disasters caused by them. They are threatening usual people's living. Hence the 2015 General Assembly of UN adpopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) whose goal is 2030. As you might have been aware, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 1 released its latest report in August this year. Following this, ISC immediately issued a document titled "The starkest warning yet on climate change", which states:

The findings present the policy community with a challenge -- but the science is clear: there are options available to slow global warming and reduce future climate risks. The ISC welcomes the report and congratulates all those involved in its production.

In a sense, the pandemic of COVID-19 is connected with the unsustainable development in the world so far. Thus, the Report says "COVID-19 crisis must become the great accelerator of transformations towards a more sustainable, equitable and healthy world"  and is prompting upcoming COP26 negotiations. The section reports that in 2020 the ISC launched the Rethinking Human Development project in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It also tellls that a Technical Working Group of ISC worked to draft hazard definitions and an accompanying report that provides a scientific basis for the definition of specific hazards and related metrics. The resulting Hazard Definition & Classification Review: Technical Report was published in mid-2020. It summarizes that 2020 should have been an intense period of fieldwork and data collection, but became instead a year of learning, reflection and reprioritization for the projects and the programme coordinators. Integrated Research for Agenda 2030 in Africa (LIRA 2030) is also described as one of the examples of this activity.  

Section 4 is about "Policy and Public Discourse". Note that the focus of ISC activities includes "Science-for-Policy" and "Policy-for-Science". Here the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic is also felt:

As heads of state repeatedly appeared with chief scientific advisors and medical officers to address worried citizens on the rapidly developing and changing nature of the health emergency, science was thrust into the spotlight, becoming the focus of much hope for rapid solutions. 

ISC still keeps the principle "science-led solutions". To this end, ISC was involved with "Global Science TV", "Science in the Newsroom Summit" and "International Network for Government Science Advice (by INGSA)". ISC also tried to develop a podcast program in 2020. 
Section 5 describes "the Digital Revolution". Since UNESCO issued a recommendation on Open Science, the "FAIR" principle is described. Towards this aim, CODATA, the ISC's 
Committee on Data, is currently developing a decadal programme, "Making Data Work for Cross-Domain Grand Challenges", to be launched at the ISC General Assembly in October 2021. I think the members of ICIAM should pay more attention to the subject. As we discussed in past board meetings, the "FAIR" principle might bring difficulties, in particular, in 
publications of our academic achievements. Hence the subject "A Digital Planet for Sustainability" is very important, but more discussion is required.

The next section, Section 6, "The Evolution of Science and Science Systems", touches on the topic of the future of scientific publishing, too. It describes

In 2020 the ISC undertook a major review of the role of publishing in the scientific enterprise and developed a set of principles for scientific publishing that aim to maximize the benefit of publications for global science and for the wider audiences for scientific research. 

In this context the Report examines the topics "Science in Exile", "Gender equality in science: From awareness to transformation", "Combating systemic discrimination in science"
and "Regional Open Science Platforms". On 9 June 2020 ISC published a statement asking for a dialogue to be convened in all societies and in all sectors of society, including science, responding to the George Floyd case in Minneapolis. This shows that ISC reacted to such a big social issue because of its significance. 
Section 7, "Governance", also touches on difficulties caused by COVID-19. In fact, the ISC Governing Board was unable to meet in person in 2020, but regular virtual meetings ensured continuity in the Board's activities. The section also includes reports of regional offices from Africa and Latin America and Caribbean and Asia and the Pacific. However I noticed that Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC) has been closed since 11 May 2020 due to financial difficulty. This is expressed in the next section of the Report, but I assume the ISC governance is not easy still. From the finance table of ISC in the year 2020 I can learn that the amount of membership dues by Category 2 members (national academies) is 15 times bigger than that by Category 1 members (scientific unions). This suggests that ISC is heavily dependent on national academies financially. 
At the end of the Report the names of new members that joined in 2020 are listed and a list of all ISC members is given in alphabetical order. To sum up, the Report gives an overall view of ISC activities in 2020. Although ISC faced difficulties caused by COVID-19, it tried to maintain its pursuits as much as possible and, even in this hardship, ISC tried to enhance the significance of science. I believe applied mathematics can make a greater commitment to the international science community through ISC. 



Taketomo (Tom) Mitsui

Tom Mitsui is Professor Emeritus, Department of Computer Science and Mathematical Informatics, Graduate School of Information Science, Nagoya University. He was Officer-at-Large of ICIAM from 2011 to 2019.