View from the Chair

By Herman Winnick

Welcome to this issue of the FIP Newsletter.  For these provocative and illuminating articles we owe much to the authors, our editor Laszlo Baksay, and the members of the FIP Executive Committee who solicited or wrote these articles which cover many topics relevant to international physics.  They range from Mansouri’s description of how Iranians understand the word “science” to the last note on nuclear proliferation by Pief Panofsky’s, the towering figure of US science and international arms control who died in October, 2007.

FIP Activities in 2007

In the limited space I can only touch on some highlights of FIP activities in 2007.  As is well known, much effort goes into the planning of FIP sponsored sessions at APS meetings.  At the March 2007 APS meeting FIP cosponsored (along with FPS) a very topical session on Scientific Cooperation in the Middle East, featuring talks on two major projects; SESAME (with perspectives from Iran and Israel) and  Bridging the Rift.  An in-depth look at the Digital Divide was provided by two sessions at the April meeting, cosponsored with DAP and DPB.  Details on these presentations are available on the Meetings tab on new FIP website.  In addition to informing the audience, these sessions provide an opportunity for the speakers to meet and pursue their mutual interests.

FIP continued its support and direct involvement with the expanded and very successful International Travel Grant Award Program, which supports collaborations between a US physicist and one from a developing country.  ITGAP was initiated in 2004 by James Vary with $10K of startup funding by FIP.  It has now been expanded with financial support from other APS Units (DNP, DPB, DPF, DPP) as well as the APS International Office and the US Liaison Committee for IUPAP.  Contributions total $48,000.  To date there have been six award cycles resulting in fourteen grants totaling $26,500.  ITGAP is now an ongoing program administered by the APS Committee on International Scientific Affairs (CISA).  Twice each year there are calls for proposals.  See the Prizes and Awards tab on the FIP website for details.

In 2006 Irving Lerch, then FIP chair, initiated outreach to several groups of physicists with roots abroad and working in the US, including the Overseas Chinese Physics Association (OCPA), the American Chapter of the Indian Physics Association (ACIPA), the Association of Korean Physicists in America (AKPA), and the Iranian-American Physicists (IrAP) Network Group.  This outreach is expanding, with these groups joining in sponsoring the FIP receptions, and discussions of other ways that FIP and APS can assist these groups.   

Of course the above activities, and new initiatives, are limited by the funding available to FIP.  Our main source of funds comes from APS and is proportional to our membership, so I urge you to spread the word about FIP to your colleagues, and let them know that APS members can join FIP at no additional cost.  Just point them to the web page.

It is a pleasure to welcome nine new FIP sponsored APS Fellows, including two very deserving members of the FIP Executive Committee.  See their names and citations in this newsletter.

I also draw your attention to the many international activities of APS described in the article in this newsletter.

Protecting and Defending International Science

Members of APS, particularly those who are also members of FIP, recognize the international nature of science and the importance of unrestricted travel, collaboration and communication among scientists.  This was famously expressed by Anton Chekov who said “There is no national science just as there is no national multiplication table; what is national is no longer science.”

I focus on this topic because, unfortunately, in the past year there were two attempts to violate these important and widely accepted principles.  The first was the action by lawyers of the American Chemical Society (ACS) to expel 34 of its members who live in Iran, in an erroneous interpretation of rules relating to US sanctions against Iran by the US Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).  Remarkably they took action without pressure from the US government and without the knowledge of the ACS Executive Officer, Council, or President.  As such it was due at least in part to a failure of ACS management and poor communication within ACS.  The second action was a resolution passed by the membership of the University and College Union (UCU) of the UK to boycott Israeli academics, as an expression of criticism of actions of the government of Israel.  Fortunately, due largely to a strong reaction by many individuals and organizations in the worldwide scientific community, both of these actions have been reversed.

Since the expulsion of Iranians from ACS could have set a precedent for APS to do the same, the FIP Executive Committee was very pleased to hear from APS Executive Officer Judy Franz that APS would continue to serve its Iranian members.  Judy worked behind the scenes to get ACS to reverse their action.  At the April 2007 meeting of the FIP Executive Committee the following message was approved and sent to Judy Franz:

“The Executive Committee of the APS Forum on International Physics applauds and fully supports your decision to maintain the universality of APS membership world-wide, consistent with previous resolutions of the APS Council.

“Specifically, we were disturbed by the decision of our sister society, the American Chemical Society, to expel Iranian members in the mistaken impression that such membership was in violation of US Treasury Department rules associated with the US embargo of Iran.  We are aware that previous findings of the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) make clear that APS international membership is in full compliance with US law and the purposes of APS.”

Regarding the proposed UCU boycott of Israeli academics, the APS Council took a strong position in opposition by reiterating its November 12, 1989 Statement on the International Nature of Physics and International Cooperation., the preamble of which states:

"Science belongs to all humanity and transcends national boundaries. As in the past, science can serve as a bridge for mutual understanding across political and ideological divisions and as a vehicle for the enhancement of peace. In particular, APS believes that it is important at this time to strive for more open dialogue among scientists to enhance international cooperation."

Other organizations expressed their concern about the proposed boycott of Israeli academics.  For example, in commenting on the UCU action the following statement was made by the International Council for Science (ICSU):

“Recent moves to foster an academic boycott of Israeli scientists and the dismissal of two Israeli scholars from their roles on the editorial boards of two journals published in the United Kingdom are a flagrant breach of this principle and have rightly drawn substantial adverse comment from scientists, newspaper columnists and human rights activists in the United Kingdom.

On behalf of the Executive Board of ICSU, we draw attention to these events to remind all our national member academies and research councils and our scientific unions and associates of the critical importance of the principle of non-discrimination and of the need for constant vigil in securing its continuing adoption. We understand the strong feelings generated by conflicts, for example that in the Middle East, and the desire of individuals and groups to avoid contact, actively boycott or otherwise demonstrate distaste or disgust for the actions of nation state governments and others. But to do so through the medium of individual scholars is to sacrifice a profoundly important principle of freedom.”

Due to my involvement with the SESAME project, which is building a synchrotron radiation research center in the Middle East as a cooperative venture of nine Middle East countries, I was able to send personal notes to several scientist colleagues in Islamic countries as well as Israel, first about the ACS action and later about the UCU action.  The Iranians were understandably very pleased with the strong stand taken by APS and FIP opposing the ACS expulsion of Iranian scientists.  Later, when they learned about the proposed boycott of Israeli academics, they joined in the criticism of UCU.  A prominent Iranian scientist wrote the following to the UCU:

Let me express my sincere opposition to the boycott of Israeli academics that is being considered by the University and College Union. As a scientist living in the Middle East, I appreciate the move of UCU to express its unhappiness about the restrictions being made by Isreali forces to the Palestinian students and academics. However, the decision made by UCU is violating the same principles one is trying to defend. It is hard to accept that the Isreali academia are proponents of such restrictions.”

An Iranian scientist defending Israeli academics speaks volumes about the international nature of science and the importance for all to be vigilant in defending the principles involved.