May 2023: Midterm meeting of the International Science Council

On May 10-12, the midterm meeting of the ISC was held in Paris. The ISC wishes to become "the global voice of science" in the multilateral system. Some 300 delegates from all over the world were present, ICIAM was represented by Maria J. Esteban and Wil Schilders. The ISC has 220 members, of which some 140+ are national academies of science. There is a president (Peter Gluckman), a CEO (Salvatore Aricò), some Officers and an office with almost 25 employees. The ISC is setting up an office in New York close to the UN, and the staff is planned to grow to 40+.

Among the concrete goals presented in this meeting to be achieved by ISC we find: being or becoming the global voice of science, coordination with other agencies and international bodies, interfacing with the multilateral system (UN, UN agencies, UNESCO, etc), a possible partnership with the European Commission and the World Health Organization (WHO). ISC should be able to inform and influence, increase the trust in science, improve the level of ethics and responsibility in science, but also freedom for the scientists in all countries in the world to be free to pursue their work. The ISC should produce studies and reports that can be used at the global level or by members in their countries or communities, to produce toolkits, etc. Contrary to the priorities of ICSU, one of the predecessors of ISC, the current management of ISC, or at least part of it, seems to put all its energy into the diplomacy of science.

The program of the midterm meeting consisted of plenary sessions that were very well attended, often with a panel that presented their views followed by questions and remarks from the audience. There were also parallel sessions, where specific topics were discussed. In his opening speech, the president said that he considered this midterm meeting as groundbreaking, not only because it is the first meeting of such kind (soon after the foundation of ISC, corona started), but because it is bringing so many members together. He also argued that the integration of natural and social sciences (in 2018 the merger took place) was a critical step for ISC. Although there were also comments that this integration is not easy and still on-going, and that especially the social sciences don’t realize the importance of such integration.

Gluckman also presented the ISC global commission on science missions for sustainability. Two reports have been published in recent years, namely ‘’Unleashing science’’ and ‘’A synthesis of research gaps’’. The commission is chaired by Irina Bokova, who was a DG at UNESCO from 2009 to 2017, making a case for new forms of research funding. The initiative will be announced at the High-Level Political Forum in July 2023. 

In the next sessions, many different aspects were discussed, such as ‘’The evolution of science in a global context’’, ‘’Inclusion and participation of women in science’’, ‘’Increasing the ISC Regional Presence and Impact’’ (also important for ICIAM) and ‘’Increasing the Global Impact of Science for Societal Transformation Towards Sustainability’’. Concerning the latter, science is sometimes viewed as ‘’just an opinion’’, and ISC is working towards countering this tendency. 

Very interesting was Session 8, consisting of parallel meetings for members of categories 1, 2 and 3. ICIAM is a category 1 member, together with some 40-50 other global unions. Here, a motion was voted unanimously expressing concern about the constitutional reform the ISC is planning to undertake. The general feeling was that the 140+ national academies would get too much power, many felt that the current balance between national academies and unions should stay in place. This discussion was continued later in the meeting, when the constitutional reform was presented to the whole audience. At the end of the meeting the unions had an informal gathering to discuss how to deal with the situation. It was decided that a text would be prepared and sent to the Governing Board quickly so that it learned about the unions’ concerns and propositions before their next meeting. It is remarkable that some academies, which in principle would gain from the reform, backed the unions and showed their concern about what was being proposed.

At the end of the 3-day meeting, the President of the ISC addressed the audience making a summary of the previous days discussions and announcing the program for the coming months. It was a good plea for the importance of science for the society. Irina Bolkova gave a closing address, presenting her views about the progress made by the ISC since it was created and expressing her views about what should be done in the coming years.

We felt that it was good to attend this midterm meeting, so as to get first-hand information about the ISC. Getting together with the other unions was particularly useful.

A more detailed report is available on request.


Maria J. Esteban and Wil Schilders

Maria J. Esteban is an emerita senior researcher at CNRS, and a former president of ICIAM. Wil Schilders is emeritus professor at Eindhoven University of Technology. He worked in industry for over 30 years, and is President-Elect of ICIAM.