Review of the ISC report "Protecting Science in Times of Crisis"

The Centre for Science Futures of the International Science Council (ISC) has recently issued an interesting report, Protecting Science in Times of Crisis,  about how to protect science, higher education, research  and scientists in times of crisis (natural disasters, wars, geopolitical conflicts, and so on). The report focuses on how to build resilience for science. 

The analysis of past crises shows that science and scientists usually pay a high price in those situations: scientists lose their jobs or their ability to work, or have simply to leave. Scientific research and higher education become disorganized and unable to function in a good manner. The aim of preparing this report has been to establish a resilient global scientific community capable of withstanding crises and recovering from them in a better way than in the past. 

There are a number of institutions and initiatives that function permanently or when necessary to help scientists displaced or in exile. There are also efforts to help educational institutions to continue their work or to rebuild after the end of a crisis, or in case of war. But there is not a shared or good understanding of how to prepare to deal with crises before they happen, or while they are unleashing their destructive power. And unfortunately there is no theory for the coordination of efforts in such situations. We all know that science and higher education are necessary for a healthy and efficient society, and so their protection is of the highest importance.

This report contains recommendations that could help to deal with disaster and wars in the future concerning the work of the scientific community. For that, it is necessary to think ahead, to prepare, to work with scenarios and to work in coordination with the global and national institutions that can help. 

The report has been prepared based on several activities: first a long list of publications has been scrutinized in order to learn from what researchers or politicians or journalists have written in the past about particular events or situations, or in general. The list of references at the end of the report is quite comprehensive, useful and interesting. Next, a series of past disasters have been chosen, to see how science, scientists and high educations fared in those cases. Three kinds of events have been chosen:

  • Violent conflict: (1) Russian invasion of Ukraine (2022–present); (2) Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) occupation of Mosul University, Iraq (2014–2017); 
  • Disasters: (3) Cape Town University library fire, South Africa (2021); (4) Natural Science Museum fire, Brazil (2018); (5) The Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan (2011); 
  • Crisis recovery: (6) war in the Balkans (1991–1999); (7) Japan after World War Two (1945). 

And finally, interviews were scheduled with experts in disaster risk management or people who were directly involved in the events.

The report is centered about three steps to protect science in times of crisis: prevent and prepare; protect; and rebuild. And with respect to these three different phases, it presents first some key findings, which naturally lead towards some suggested ways forward and concrete recommendations.

This report in of interest for a large audience, and especially for scientists who are interested in understanding how our community can be more supportive. 



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.