The International Science Council and Transdisciplinarity

On April 12, I had the pleasure of listening to a public lecture by Sir Peter Gluckman, Director of Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures, University of Auckland, and President-elect of the International Science Council. The talk (online of course) was part of a series co-organized by IIASA (the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis) and the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Professor Gluckman, who was trained as a pediatrician and biomedical scientist, and spent a decade as Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, spoke on COVID-19 Recovery: Towards a Just and Sustainable Society. A recording of the talk, along with other information about the topic, can be found on the IIASA website at There were too many incisive points in his talk for me to summarize, so I will mention only two, and recommend the talk itself or the reports mentioned in it for more. The first was the idea Gluckman named transdisciplinarity, a mode of thinking about problems (which he discussed in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals) that goes beyond the interdisciplinary thinking that, as applied mathematicians, our community strives for. Stated overly simplistically, it approaches problems from the viewpoint of all stakeholders, embracing systems thinking (which applied mathematicians are actually rather good at).

And his second point, germane to the new ISC model, is that little will be accomplished if social scientists are not part of the team. That point is particularly clear as we grapple with our own and our fellow human beings' difficulties in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic -- or with any other serious problem.

Sr Peter Gluckman's focus on science -- all of science -- for policy augurs well for his leadership of the International Science Council.




Barbara Lee Keyfitz

Barbara Lee Keyfitz is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at The Ohio State University. She has a PhD from New York University, and works in partial differential equations. She is a former President of ICIAM, and Editor-in-Chief of ICIAM Dianoia.