ISC's New President, Peter Gluckman, Talks about ISC

In January, the International Science Council arranged an online session for members of ISC societies to meet the new president, Peter Gluckman. In order to accommodate different time zones, two online meetings took place, one on January 26 in the morning and another one on January 27 in the afternoon.

Both meetings started with a quick 15-20 minutes' presentation by the president, giving his viewpoint about his plans as president, and about what is going on at the moment at ISC. 

He stressed the need to work more closely with members, to organize communication better in both directions, and to involve members better in the design and running of initiatives, the choice of experts to involve in different projects and issues, etc. He also presented briefly ISC’s ongoing conversations with some offices of the UN, the launch of a High Commission on science missions for sustainability, with high profile members who will help establishing priorities  and help in the design of new structures and management. Last but not least, he mentioned finding ways to attract the new funding that is necessary for developing new activities. He also discussed the need to define the profile of ISC in order to make it more visible among scientists and among decision makers and potential donors. Since the CEO of ISC resigned recently to take a position in her country, a search is going on at the moment to find a new CEO.

Some committees will be formed soon, to address various topics to be defined by the Board. The first will deal with transdisciplinarity. For this committee a coordinator (a philosopher and mathematician from Norway) has already been chosen, and other members, who could add expertise to the discussions, will be found in the various member organizations. On the organizational side, he explained that the ISC Board has transitioned from two meetings per year in person to a monthly online meeting. This allows for more regularity in the discussions and a better follow-up of ongoing projects. Finally, when discussing membership, Gluckman stressed the need to fill some gaps -- for instance in Life Sciences, or Evolutionary Biology. He then outlined plans to build regional offices/units that should help increase the relations between ISC members sharing geography proximity. These regional units will have a new structure and will function differently from the old regional offices inherited from ICSU. Clearly new funding is necessary to make all these plans work.

After the president's presentation, the rest of the time was devoted to Questions and Answers. There were a good number of questions and discussions, mainly about the set-up of the future regional offices and about how members could participate better in the activities of ISC. One participant complained about not getting much from ISC membership. Others regretted that most of the people involved in ISC activities were not so young, and said that it would be good to involve younger people, the scientists of the future.

The main answers were the following:

  •  ISC should be able to help members in capacity building concerning science advice in their countries or communities. 
  • More young scientists should be associated to the activities of ISC, and apart from members nominating younger people to represent them in ISC meetings and panels, another possibility would be to associate, or accept as members, young academies that already exist in some fields.
  • Members should be involved much more in the activities and decisions of ISC. ISC has to make big efforts in this direction. 
  • Some of the projects of ISC could actually be taken over by one or several members who have the expertise in the corresponding field.
  • The ISC could act as broker between members, so that members that wish/need expertise in some particular field can get it from other ISC members who have it. But in order for ISC to do this, members who need something from others have to ask explicitly about their needs and wishes. ISC can also provide material and background information for members who want to act as science advisors at the level of their countries.
  • The regional presence of ISC must be improved. This could prove very efficient and not expensive to implement.
  •  Ways have to be found so that members can make their activities more visible to ISC and to all its members.
  • Nothing has been done about the anti-science movements, but some commission should plan to discuss this important topic, and how ISC and its members could help in this direction, especially if the effort were coordinated. Maybe a forum has to be created to discuss these topics.

Maria J. Esteban

Maria J. Esteban is a senior researcher at CNRS and works at the University Paris-Dauphine. Her research area includes nonlinear partial differential equations, especially variational methods. Her term as President of ICIAM ended October 1, 2019.