APS News

UNESCO Meeting Outlines Current and Future Practices

On March 14, representatives from the APS, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and various other scientific organizations met at NAS headquarters in Washington, DC, for an informal meeting to discuss UNESCO's science activities, current priorities and future plans. The meeting was hosted by NAS Foreign Secretary Sherry Rowland.

The U.S. withdrew from UNESCO participation in 1984 amid charges of corruption on the part of its then-Director General, Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow. A GAO report released last year concluded that subsequent reforms at UNESCO had met U.S. requirements for re-entry, with an equally favorable response from President Clinton. Federico Mayor, UNESCO's current director general under whom many of the reforms have taken place, said that reform initiatives would continue.

Mayor first reviewed the global-scale science programs currently supported by UNESCO, including the development of a new global program to examine the integration of the social sciences into major science initiatives. However, he admitted that there remains a need for new initiatives in support of basic science, although there are partnerships and other collaborations in place where intergovernmental mechanisms in the basic sciences do not yet exist, such as the Microbial Resources Centers Network (MIRCENS) and the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy.

In terms of regional programs, UNESCO has specifically targeted Africa for development, which is experiencing considerable brain drain: some 30,000 Ph.D.s from sub-Saharan Africa have fled to developed countries, according to Mayor. A development fund has been established, seeded with $1 million and bolstered with contributions from other countries, and Mayor has been working to convince governments in that region to invest some 3 percent of their GDP in education, science and technology combined. In Latin America, there is an increasing need to involve the private sector in science, technology and educational efforts, said Mayor, while Asia is in need of a network of eco-technology centers.

Afternoon discussion at the meeting focused on such issues as telecommunications and renewable energy sources, as well as electronic publishing. It was agreed that there is a need to prevent growing disparities between communities, especially between developed and developing countries.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin