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Jordan’s Prince El Hassan bin Talal on Vatican visit

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The two day closed-door meeting 3-4 May was organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and included Christian and Muslim delegates.  His Royal Highness, as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Institute of Interfaith Studies (RIIFS), headed a delegation of men and women involved in interfaith dialogue.

RIIFS is a non-profit, non-governmental organization which offers a space for the interdisciplinary study of intercultural and interreligious issues with the aim of reducing tensions and promoting peace at regional and global levels.

Prince El Hassan was one of thirty members of RIIFS received in audience Wednesday by Pope Francis.  In speaking to them, the Pope recalled “with great joy” his visit to Jordan and said the group’s work “is a task of construction” that comes at a time “in which we are accustomed to the destruction wrought by war.”  And, he urged them to continue on the “journey” of dialogue “and of bringing people together” which “always helps us to construct.”

A journey of Interfaith dialogue

“I believe that rising to the higher values referred to by His Holiness Pope Francis on Wednesday is my expectation of this dialogue. To rise to constructive values …simply put.  Broadly put: psychological and physical rebuilding of our mindset towards the issue which is an issue of territoriality, identity and migration worldwide as I see it, is the challenge that we face: how to look at human dignity without discrimination and without silos,” he said.

“What I mean by silos,” Prince El Hassan added,  “is that there are international organizations that deal on a binary basis with this organization or that organization, with this group of beneficiaries, migrants, refugees, stateless persons – we’ve even now entered into the immoral reference to some groups of people as ‘un-people.’”

“And I think in this regard, stripping people of their nationality is not going to improve the chances of losing large numbers of young people who join radical groups simply because they feel they do not have any other option or because they feel that the incentives are the way they are.  So I think that this dialogue – and we announced a decalogue of dialogue in 2014 in Amman – is actually achieving certain objectives.  And among those objectives is the practical work being done by the monitoring facilities of academics who are looking at the Arab Christian and Muslim image vis-a-vis the world in which we live and correspondingly, asking those who are concerned with projecting the European concerns or the Western concerns: how can we meet in a middle ground whereby we look at liberties in the context of a good neighborhood policy on the one side, and the Eurasian policy on the other?”

Asked if enough is being done in the region to foster citizenship and diversity, His Royal Highness stressed:

“In the case of Jordan we were supposed to be 2 and a half million people in 1991.  Today we are over 9 million people.  We’ve had a war practically every decade since 1948, ’56, ’67, ’73 and the list goes on to include the Iraq wars and the Iraq-Iran war.  And every war has meant that Jordan and Lebanon for example, have paid the price with the forced migration and of course before that, the Palestinian forced migration. So the question of citizenship is a question of pluralism, a question of recognizing the identity of the other on the basis of respect.”

“The question of identity is one of recognizing the other, recognizing that the Christian population is dwindling in the region as a whole which is quite alarming…” added the Prince.

Jordan shelters hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees

Jordan has generously offered refuge to hundreds of thousands of Syrians who fled the war in their country. Asked if the international community has assumed its fair share of the burden, Prince El Hassan said he looks “forward to the realization of the pledges and the delivery of those pledges as they were made in the [recent] London conference – on assisting the countries that have suffered the consequences of the Syrian debacle and the Syrian civil war.”

The 4 February 2016 conference set itself ambitious goals on education and economic opportunities to transform the lives of refugees caught up in the Syrian crisis – and to support the countries hosting them.   Over US$ 11 billion was raised in pledges – $5.8 billion for 2016 and a further $5.4 billion for 2017-20.

“These consequences, I believe – whether in infrastructure, education, jobs, economy -should be looked at in terms of a regional stabilization plan. In that regard, I am quite impressed by the statement of [U.S.] Senator Lindsey Graham calling for a Marshall Plan.  I hope he is taken seriously as indeed I hope that the Bretton Woods, the World Bank and the IMF are taken seriously in their call for a stabilization fund.  But to be pro-active, I think that a regional bank for reconstruction and development should be encouraged. I can’t understand why our region is the only region in the world where we don’t have a regional bank where we have to respond to the initiative taken by others beyond our region,”  stated His Royal Highness.

“I think that a time may come when we begin to recognize refugees as they truly are: as victims rather than as perpetrators of violence.  I think it’s too much to ask of the poorest countries in the region, the non-oil producing countries in particular, to bear the greatest burden of the folly of others.”

ماهية الاختلاف بين الدين والعلم

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خالد الدخيل

الأحد، ٢ أغسطس/ آب ٢٠١٥ (٠١:٠ – بتوقيت غرينتش)

هناك فرق بين من يقرأ أي نص، ولنقل هنا النص الديني، بخلفية معرفية دينية وحسب، وبين من يقرأ هذا النص بخلفية معرفية علمية حديثة صرفة، وثالث يقرأه بخلفية معرفية دينية تختلط معها معرفة علمية حديثة. قراءة الأول ستكون على الأرجح خاضعة لسلطة المرجعية الدينية، مع استبعاد أي مرجعية أخرى، علمية أو غيرها. قراءة الثاني ستنطلق في الغالب من المرجعية العلمية الحديثة، مع استبعاد أي مرجعية أخرى، دينية أو غيرها. أما قراءة الثالث، فستحاول على الأرجح التوفيق بين المرجعيتين الدينية والعلمية. السؤال في هذه الحال: هل تعكس اختلافات القراءة هذه لنص ديني، اختلافات في درجة الإيمان والتدين، وبالتالي عمق الانتماء إلى دين، ولنقل هنا الدين الإسلامي؟ من الممكن جداً أن الثلاثة ينتمون مثلاً إلى الدين نفسه (الإسلام مثلاً)، وبالتالي يؤمنون بالشهادة وكل مقتضياتها، ورغم ذلك قد يصل كل واحد منهم، وهذا هو الأرجح، إلى نتيجة تختلف بهذه الدرجة أو تلك عن النتيجة التي وصل إليها الآخر من قراءة النص نفسه.

بل إن هذا الاختلاف يحصل في حال انتماء الثلاثة ليس إلى الدين نفسه فحسب، بل إلى الرؤية العقدية نفسها والمدرسة الفقهية ذاتها. والأمثلة على ذلك أكثر من أن تحصى. لكن خذ مثالاً اختلاف الشيخ محمد بن عبدالوهاب عن إمام المذهب الذي ينتمي إليه أحمد بن حنبل في موضوع علاقة رجل الدين أو الفقيه بالسلطة السياسية. اشتهر عن ابن حنبل (توفي 241هـ/855م) زهده السياسي واعتزاله الخلفاء وأصحاب السلطة. واختلف ابن عبدالوهاب عن إمامه في هذه المسألة. لكنه مثل إمامه، لم يكن طامعاً في سلطة سياسية، وهو ما يؤكده تاريخه وتاريخ الحركة التي أطلقها في منتصف القرن الثاني عشر من الهجرة (الثامن عشر من الميلاد). كلاهما يتفق على وجوب طاعة ولي الأمر، ما يدل على أن موقف ابن حنبل من الخلفاء لم يكن تعبيراً مبطناً عن معارضة جذرية لهم، بقدر ما أنه كان تعبيراً عن وجل ديني أفضى به إلى زهد سياسي. في حين أن ابن عبدالوهاب (توفي 1206هـ/1792م) الذي ظهر بعد ابن حنبل بنحو تسعة قرون، أي في بيئة اجتماعية وسياسية مختلفة تماماً، كان ناشطاً سياسياً إلى جانب دوره الديني، وبالتالي نظر إلى الموضوع من زاوية مختلفة، وقرأ النصوص المتعلقة به من زاوية مختلفة أيضاً، انطلاقاً من اختلاف الظروف والأعراف والمصالح. من هذه الزاوية، اتفق ابن عبدالوهاب مع إمامه في شيء، واختلف معه في شيء آخر، وهي اختلافات تنتمي طبعاً إلى فروع المذهب لا إلى أصوله.

بل إن الشخص نفسه قد تتغير قراءته للنص ويتغير رأيه بتغير مرحلته العمرية وتجربته وتغير البيئة التي يعيش فيها. ولعل قصة الإمام الشافعي من أشهر الأمثلة في التاريخ الإسلامي على ذلك، إذ إن رؤيته الفقهية عندما كان في العراق تغيرت بعدما انتقل إلى مصر. يقول الشيخ محمود أبو زهرة في هذا الموضوع عن الشافعي إنه «نسخ… بكتابه (الفقهي) المصري كتابه البغدادي». وينقل عنه قوله: «لا أجعل في حل من روى عني كتابي البغدادي» (تاريخ المذاهب الإسلامية، ص477).

هذا في ما يتعلق بالاختلاف وإمكانه داخل إطار معرفي واحد هو إطار الفكر الديني. ولعل من الواضح أنه إذا كان اختلاف البيئة والظروف والتجربة يقود إلى اختلافات بين من ينتمون إلى الدين نفسه، فما بالك بمن ينتمون إلى عوالم فكرية ومنهجية مختلفة، بل ومتناقضة أحياناً. سيقال إنه مع التسليم بذلك فإن إمكان الاختلاف داخل الدين الواحد دليل آخر على أن الدين لا يختلف عن العلم في شيء. وهو قول منافٍ للواقع ولطبيعة كلٍّ من الدين والعلم، ويخلط بين المقدمة والنتيجة التي قادت إليها. الفيصل هنا هو المنهج، وليس الاختلاف في حد ذاته. لأن الاختلافات التي أشرنا إلى بعضها داخل الفكر الديني إنما هي تعبير عن الطبيعة البشرية: اختلاف الأفراد ومشاربهم، واختلاف المجتمعات والبيئات التي ينتمون إليها، واختلاف مراحلهم الزمنية، أكثر منه تعبيراً عن اختلاف المنهج المستخدم في هذه الحال، وإلا فالدين كمنهج معرفي ينطلق من منطق خاص به يبقى شيئاً مختلفاً عن العلم، وأعني بذلك العلم بمعناه الحديث، وليس كما هو شائع في الثقافة الإسلامية («الحياة»، 13/11/2013). وعلى هذا الأساس فإن الاختلافات بين العلم والدين هي في الأساس وأكثر من أي شيء آخر، اختلافات في المنهج والمنطلقات، وفي المنطق الذي يصدر عنه كل واحد منهما.

طبعاً هذا لا يعني بأي حال نفي حضور العقل وفعاليته في الدين، وبالتالي في الفكر الديني. لكن الحقيقة هي أن هذا العقل خاضع أخيراً لسلطة الوحي، وبالتالي لسلطة النص الذي جاء به. ونتيجة لذلك يبقى العقل خاضعاً لسلطة التقليد المترتبة عن سلطة النص. أما في المنهج العلمي، فالأمر ليس كذلك. لأن العقل في هذا المنهج غير خاضع لسلطة خارجة عنه. من هنا، فالعلم بمعناه الحديث هو في نهاية المطاف إعمال للعقل، بآليات وضوابط علمية (لا فلسفية ولا دينية) للحصول على المعرفة: معرفة الطبيعة والنواميس التي تخضع لها، ومعرفة الإنسان باعتباره جزءاً من هذه الطبيعة، والبيئة الاجتماعية التي ينتمي إليها.

الغريب أن كثيرين من أصحاب الفكر الديني يعتبرون أن تصادم المنهج العلمي مع منهجهم مؤشر على تصادم مع الإرادة الإلهية. وفي الوقت نفسه يصرون، كما أشرت، على أن الدين لا يختلف عن هذا العلم في شيء. لكن بما أن العقل، كمرجعية نهائية للعلم، بعمله وآلياته من خلق الله، وأنه بذلك جزء من الطبيعة بنواميسها التي هي أيضاً من خلق الله، وكموضوع وحيد للعلم، ألا يكون العلم في هذه الحال تعبيراً عن إرادة الله؟ هل يمكن أن يكون العلم تعبيراً عن هذه الإرادة ومناهضاً لها في الآن ذاته؟

Future of Muslim world is in science, not reminiscence, scholars say

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By Dana Al Emam – May 05,1Islam and Science2016

HRH Princess Sumaya delivers a speech at the International Seminar on Islam and Science in Amman on Thursday (Photo courtesy of Royal Scientific Society)

AMMAN — A scientific renaissance in the Muslim world requires a move from boasting about historical achievements to a better employment of science and technology, experts said on Thursday.

Scholars from various parts of the Muslim world participating in the International Seminar on Islam and Science, held at the Royal Scientific Society (RSS), reiterated Islam’s encouragement of reading, researching and critical thinking.

Speaking at the opening of the seminar, RSS President HRH Princess Sumaya highlighted the need for a “peaceful reconciliation of progress with faith” despite the difficulties and possible controversy, adding that mediating the friction between faith and future development through science and innovation determines the future.

“If we are to be true to our heritage and our faith, then we must acknowledge one inalienable truth: Knowledge must be free. It must be sought honestly and analysed wisely. It must be unshackle13173711_10153435304282032_9167434408063403514_nd by those who seek ownership of minds through misinterpretation of religion,” she said.

Princess Sumaya cited the Great Arab Revolt of 1916, whose centennial Jordan is currently celebrating, as an event that “drew on the power of ideas and the understanding of context that flowed from Al Nahda [renaissance], when great minds poured new life into our interpretation of faith, culture and nation”.

Also speaking at the seminar, Athar Osama, founder of Muslim World Science Initiative and director of the Taskforce on Islam and Science project, said there is “very little debate” in the Muslim world around science, “not just the social contract of science, but critical issues at the intersection of science, religion, and society”.

“The taskforce project is an attempt to catalyse the important conversation between religion and science, which adopt two ways of knowing the world and its creator,” Osama said, highlighting the need for this debate to be 13147288_10153435303407032_7898557696224633246_ogenerated from within the Muslim world rather than being imposed from outside.

UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia’s Technology Centre Director Fouad Mrad highlighted the role of the Amman-based centre in technology transfer and development in 18 Arab countries, adding that he centre works towards regional integration and cooperation in technology and innovation.

Mrad commended Jordan’s leadership, government and people, saying the Kingdom offers a “precious” platform for calm dialogue.

For his part, Moneef Zoubi, director general of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences, said organisations concerned with bridging the gap between science and faith tend to “pay lip service to the intellectual quality of the scientists of the past and the milieu in which they excelled”.

He added that a key challenge facing member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and scholars today is “how to develop a viewpoint on modern science that is in harmony with Islam [and] yet projects the capacity of modern science to address problems and catalyse socioeconomic development”.

– See more at:…/future-muslim-world-science-no…

International Seminar on Islamic Perspectives on Science’s Big Questions

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Report Launch-4 May

The Islamic World Academy of Sciences (IAS) and the UN-ESCWA Technology Center/ Amman (ETC) are organizing International Seminar on Islam and Science entitled: ‘Islamic Perspective on Science’s Big Questions;’ an event which will be held today 5 May 2016 under the patronage of HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, President of the Royal Scientific Society (RSS). The Seminar will start at 09:15 and conclude at 18.00, and will be held at the Royal Scientific Society, Presidential Building, Hashemites’ Auditorium, Jordan.

The theme of the seminar is based on a recent report published’s Task Force; the same can be downloaded from:

Muslim-science.Com’s Task Forces Initiative seeks to jumpstart a dialogue, disclosure, and debate on critical issues at the intersection of science and religion within the Islamic Community and hence continue to a process of scientific revival within the Islamic World.

The Seminar is jointly organized by the Islamic World Academy of Sciences (IAS), the UN-ESCWA Technology Center (ETC), the Royal Scientific Society (RSS), John Templeton Foundation, the Muslim World Science Initiative and the Turkish Society for the History of Science (TBTK).

Datin Paduka Dr. Aini Ideris FIAS appointed Vice-Chancellor of a top Malaysian University; UPM

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Prof. Datin Paduka Dr. Aini Ideris FIAS has been appointed as the new Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) for a duration of two years; effective January 1, 2016 until December 31, 2017.

Graduated with Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree in 1979 from Universiti Pertanian Malaysia – UPM (currently, Universiti Putra Malaysia). She pursued her postgraduate study, at the University of Liverpool, England, receiving Masters in Veterinary Science (MVSc) degree in Avian Medicine, in 1981, and obtained PhD degree in Avian Medicine, in 1989 from UPM. She continued with her postdoctoral training at the University of California, Davis, USA (1990-1992), and at Cornell University, USA, in 1993 (under Asian Development Bank Fellowship), where she was involved in molecular pathogenesis research.

She was formerly elected a Fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Founding Fellow of Malaysian College of Veterinary Specialists (FMCVS) and Fellow of the Malaysian Scientific Association (FMSA). In October 2011, she was elected as Fellow of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences (FIAS); the global academy of Sciences affiliated to the OIC.

Aini is also former deputy vice-chancellor (academic and international), chairperson of Veterinary Teaching Hospital, deputy dean, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, dean, School of Graduate Studies, Malaysian Post-graduate Deans Council chairperson including chairperson of UPM Holdings board of directors.

In addition, her expertise in the veterinary field had gained her recognition to represent various committees at the KPT, Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry and Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry.

IAS Council Members, Fellows and staff congratulate Prof Datin Paduka Dr. Aini Idris on her appointment.

Professor Mostafa El-Sayed Wins 2016 Priestley Medal

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153614bd272The American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society, has announced Georgia Tech Professor Mostafa El-Sayed as the winner of its highest honor, the 2016 Priestley Medal for distinguished service in the field of Chemistry.

After moving from his native Egypt to the United States for Ph.D. and postdoctoral studies, Dr. El-Sayed began his independent research career at UCLA in 1961, coming to Georgia Tech more than twenty years ago. These two periods were marked by distinguished contributions to two diverse but important areas of research, molecular electronic energy relaxation, and the science and technology of nanoscale objects. In the past several years, he has managed to knit these topics together in pioneering the biological application of nano-plasmonic phenomena and materials. His accomplishments over this 54-year career span the range from the most exciting of fundamental discoveries to the most selfless and creative service to his fellow scientists and the public.

Among many other honors, Prof. El-Sayed was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2007, and continues to serve on the President’s National Medal of Science Selection Committee.  An elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences as well as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Prof. El-Sayed was Editor-in-Chief of the Jounal of Physical Chemistry for an astounding 24 years, guiding this journal to its preeminent status and helping to shape the entire field. At Georgia Tech, he has anchored the continued development of an internationally renowned physical chemistry division while embodying the Institute’s dedication to interdisciplinary science and technology. He even has a spectroscopy rule named after him!

More than 70 students have earned their Ph.D. degrees in the El-Sayed laboratory, and more than 80 postdoctoral scientists, research scientists, and visiting professors have done research under his direction.  The El-Sayed group has been supported by over $18 million in external funding, publishing more than 680 papers.  Incredibly, more than half of the 65,000+ citations to his work in the scientific and patent literature have occurred in the past five years, a testament to the cutting-edge nature and practical relevance of his research at Georgia Tech. He currently directs research on nanoparticle-based anticancer therapy in both the U.S. and Egypt.

Professor El-Sayed is Regents’ Professor, Julius Brown Chair of Chemistry, and the Director of the Laser Dynamics Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology. We congratulate him on this well-deserved honor and look forward to his contributions, insight, and boundless enthusiasm for many years to come.

The triennial IAP Conference – the 2016 edition of which focused on the theme of ‘Science Advice’ – took place on 28 February to 1 March in Hermanus, South Africa.

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Doc1With nearly 80 academies of science and medicine represented at the event, this was the largest ever gathering of academies, according to outgoing IAP co-chair Mohamed Hassan of Sudan. And Hassan should know – he has been involved with IAP in one way or another since its early days.

The meeting kicked off, with a keynote address from the South African Minster of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, who noted that South Africa currently spends a little less than 1% of its GDP on supporting science and technology, but that the South African government aims to increase this to 1.5% within the next few years.

Pandor also said that there was a strong relationship between her ministry and the hosts of the event, the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), which used the event to celebrate the 20 years since its creation. ASSAf has grown to become a significant component of the South Africa science advice ecosystem, she confirmed. She also challenged the assembled academy delegates and representatives to aim towards gender equity in all academies, with 50% representation of men and women. Her comment was particularly relevant given the release of the IAP report on ‘Women for Science: Inclusion and Participation in Academies of Science’ that was released later in the week (see below).

The following morning, Sir Peter Gluckman, science adviser to the Prime Minister of New Zealand and chair of the International Network on Government Science Advice (INGSA), set the scene for much of the remainder of the conference.

Gluckman made the point that science and policy are fundamentally different cultures, adding that modern science is becoming increasingly non-normal, with non-linear relationships leading to uncertainties and disputed values. The aim of scientists should be to build trust with governments and their agencies, he said, and to inform policy by translating scientific results into understandable language and concepts. There should also be less expectancy among the scientific community that its advice will be taken on board because policymaking is a messy process, with diverse inputs and viewpoints, and policymakers must weigh many factors besides science.

A session on ‘Science Advice in Times of Disasters/Emergencies’ focused both on natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons, as well as disease epidemics such as the recent Ebola outbreak in three West African countries. Among the key points emerging was that preparedness and early warning systems can go a long way to avoiding the worst effects of natural disasters on lives, property, infrastructure and also irreplaceable cultural heritage. Communication is critical and it can be especially important to reach out to local government and to keep local people informed of how they should prepare and react by providing advice in their own language. Virginia Murray, vice-chair, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) Scientific and Technical Advisory Group (STAG), also confirmed that academies have an opportunity to get involved in the issue of science advice, communication to the public and to policy-makers, and other issues by joining the S&T Partnership for the Implementation of the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

With regard to the session dedicated to ‘Science Advice in the International Arena with a Special Focus on Synthetic Biology’, there was the opinion that research into synthetic biology is moving quickly, but that regulatory oversight is failing to keep pace. In addition, many synthetic biology practitioners are operating outside academia, so it is difficult to ensure responsible and ethical research. For these reasons, it was proposed to engage more with these informal groups so that potential misuse of research can be spotted early and averted. At the same time, participants raised the concern that products derived via synthetic biology could be seen as equivalent in all respects to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In this case there is a need to work with social scientists on ways to engage the public in outreach and debate so that the benefits of synthetic biology are not curtailed or over-regulated as they have been with GMOs in some parts of the world.

The end of the first full day of the conference was marked by the launch of the InterAcademy Partnership report on ‘Women for Science: Inclusion and Participation in Academies of Science’, marking the culmination of studies into the numbers of women in academies of science around the globe as well as how active they are within those academies. Among the statistics that emerged from the global survey was that the Cuban Academy of Sciences leads the way in gender equality, with 27% of its members being women. However, this is still some way off parity, as per the challenge given to academies by Minister Pandor in her conference opening address.

The global average for women’s membership in science academies is rather poor, confirms the report, at around 12%. However, there are some other interesting successes. The UK’s Royal Society, for example, has just 6% women among its membership, but 40% of the members of its executive committee are women. For a more detailed summary of the report, and a link to the full report, see

In the session on ‘Country Readiness for Science Advice’, it was noted that the US National Academies was created by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 specifically to provide advice to the US government.  This is also the case of other well-established academies in Europe and elsewhere. However, as pointed out by Norbert Hounkonnou of Benin, the impact of science advice depends on the level of scientific development in a country, and in many African countries the critical mass of scientists living and working in the country is low and the advice framework is minimal. Academies are typically well-equipped to take on this role of science advice, but there is a need to develop relations with the government, including its various regulatory agencies, and possibly finding a direct route, too, to the head of state. Again, however, building such links can be difficult for weak or recently-established academies.

Jacqueline McGlade, Chief Scientist, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), then presented another of the conferences keynote lectures. She highlighted that UNEP was now providing deep, robust and sometimes real-time data that is increasingly demanded by policymakers. Indeed, she noted that small countries (Finland was specifically mentioned) often rely on UNEP and other UN agencies as their ‘civil service’.

This is because UNEP produces in-depth reports on a variety of environmental issues – from water availability and drought to the degree of pollution by plastics in the marine environment – using some 1,200 expert scientists to source information from research published in all UN languages, synthesizing it for consumption by policy-makers and others. Indeed, there is also a commitment on the part of UNEP to make its reports openly accessible – and that all the references cited by the reports are also made freely available and are not hidden behind publishers’ pay-walls.

McGlade also called on IAP, its member academies and leading scientists around the world to engage more with the UNEP process and broaden the base of expertise that is feeding into its reports.

The final session of the conference was moderated by Robbert Dijkgraaf, co-chair of the InterAcademy Council, who led the panellists through a series of questions designed to encourage debate on the issue of the ‘Interplay between Science Advice, Politics and the Media’.

Local science journalist, Linda Nordling, set the scene by pointing out that few newspapers had dedicated science pages, so it was hard to get articles published in the mainstream press. In addition, the average age of journalists working in newsrooms is decreasing (something that she called ‘juniorization’); in many countries there are more public relations personnel working in universities and research institutes than there are science journalists; and there is growing competition from online sources of information such as blogs and even Twitter that can instantly share key points and link with thousands of people. Science media centres, such as that in the UK and other countries, were also lauded for their success in improving science-public communication, as they bring together professional science journalists who can filter the information and ‘translate’ it for the public, with scientists who ensure the credibility of the reporting. In this regard, the model of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellows was also highlighted, whereby young scientists spend short periods of time working within the US government. However, they often remain in government positions and can act as effective interlocutors between scientists and policy-makers.

The need for skills training for scientist to improve their communication with the public was also highlighted, as well as the need for short articles (no longer than one page or one screen), infographics and concise videos (of 2-3 minutes’ duration rather than hour-long documentaries).

With regard to the role of academies, there was a call for efforts to increase scientific literacy and reasoning among the public, for example via wider roll-out of inquiry-based science education (IBSE) for primary school children, a cornerstone of the long-running IAP Science Education Programme, as well as the fact that academies can reach beyond national borders and bridge political divides.

The final session, led by the two co-chairs of the conference committee, Daya Reddy of ASSAf and Jörg Hacker of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, reviewed some of the over-arching themes that emerged from the sessions of the previous two days.

In summary, these were:

  • Avoid the hubris of thinking science has all the answers. Be an honest broker. Build trust.
  • When providing science advice, it is important to avoid requesting additional funds or advocating on policy-for-science issues.
  • There is a need to be inclusive and solicit diverse inputs, especially from women, social scientists and young scientists.
  • Training in communicating to the public and to policy-makers should be included in undergraduate and graduate curricula, and ways of rewarding scientists for communicating in such ways should be developed – in contrast to many current systems whereby career development is based on the publication of papers in high-impact-factor journals.
  • There was also the question of how academies can respond to requests for rapid responses for advice, often with a turn-around time of just a day or a couple of weeks (compared to the more usual time period of several months or even more than a year to produce thoroughly researched, peer-reviewed reports) while maintaining scientific rigour?
  • Finally, there were many discussions on how we can help academies and other scientists to understand society better so that the scientific message can be tailored in the most appropriate way.

In other words, the core concept that emerged from the IAP Conference on Science Advice was “Communication, communication, communication!”

_ _ _ _ _

The conference was followed on 2 March by the IAP General Assembly (GA) – the triennial meeting where major decisions on the governance of the academy network are taken by the member academies. Among the key decisions in this year’s GA were:

  • Ratification of five new member academies – the academies of science of Benin, Burkina Faso, Ecuador and Honduras, as well the World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS).
  • The election of a new co-chair to represent developing countries – Krishnan Lal from India, and the re-election of Volker ter Meulen (Germany) to represent industrialized countries. A new Executive Committee was also elected.
  • The decision to bring together three academy networks, IAP, IAMP and IAC, to form the InterAcademy Partnership, with the three component parts to be renamed IAP for Science, IAP for Health and IAP for Research, respectively. The new partnership will enable IAP (the old acronym is being maintained) to speak with one voice on issues of science advice and thus, hopefully, have a greater impact in both national and international policy-making communities.

By Peter McGrath

The IAP Conference website is:


Written by iasworld on . Posted in News


Chemist Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, 2007 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Laureate, was the first woman to be appointed president in the history of the Mauritius Islands.

In 2014, researcher Ameenah Gurib-Fakin became internationally known after delivering a talk at TED about the importance of preservation of the Mauritius Islands, a nation located on the Southeast of Africa and the place where the scientist was born. Gurib-Fakim was the first scientist to do the complete mapping of the country’s medicinal and aromatic plants and was one of the five researchers selected to receive the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards in 2007. Last year, she became the first woman to be appointed president in the history of the Mauritius Islands. Cristine Kist from GALILEU magazine talked to the scientist to understand how her academic background will contribute to her administration.


I grew up in a village that was close to the airport. People frequently asked me what I expected from the future – and I used to say that would like to be a stewardess! I was fascinated by travelling by airplane and getting to know the world. Which I only started doing when I was much older!


I did not choose to participate in a presidential campaign. Rather, I was chosen by politics: I had delivered a talk at TED and soon after that the media started speculating about the possibility that I run for presidency. I was contacted by a political party and we soon had a landslide victory. I am a scientist and I never thought about having a political career. I think that the party wanted a new face, someone who was not part of the political scenario, but someone internationally known, who was also a woman and a Muslim (Islam is a minority religion at the Mauritius Islands).


I would say that my life has completely changed now; I have practically a feeling of nostalgia about the time when I could live with more freedom. But the Mauritius Islands are like any other country that needs to improve its economic performance: courageous decisions must be made so that the economy can diversity itself and create more jobs, especially among the younger sections of the population. Being a very distant island can be a challenge, but I think that this also converts itself into opportunities.


My time is consumed by the presidency, but I still continue to contribute in various ways to strengthen science, also by creating specific policies and by bringing certain topics to the spotlight of discussions. But I strongly believe that science, technology and innovation are the tools to create wealth and opportunities, and I will use my position to ensure the creation of a favorable environment for this to happen.


The vegetation coverage needs to be protected, especially in forests such as the Amazon, which are the lungs of the world and rich in biodiversity, regions humanity depends on for the survival of the planet.


If my position as a scientist and a president can serve to the cause and encourage other women to follow these paths, then yes, I am a feminist!

The Mustafa Prize hints at Islamic science’s golden age while awarding today’s achievers

Written by iasworld on . Posted in News


On Christmas day, the Islamic world sent out a reminder of its vast contributions to the advancement of science, technology and innovation (STI). At a solemn ceremony in Tehran, set off by recitations from the holy Quran, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its affiliated scientific bodies honoured the first two awardees of the Mustafa Prize for top scientists and innovators.

The prize is awarded biennially for achievements in Life Sciences and Medicine, Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, Information and Communication Technology and Scientific Achievement. In the first three categories, the nominees must be citizens of one of the 57 OIC member-countries, while in the last the nominee must be a Muslim, though not necessarily a citizen of an OIC country.


The awards, worth US$ 500,000 each, went to Jackie Y. Ying, CEO of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Singapore, and Omar Yaghi, co-director of the Kavli Energy Nanosciences Institute, University of California. Mohammed Javed Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister and member of the Mustafa Prize policy-making council, said he hoped that its institution would help revive the golden days of Islamic science and build bridges in the future. While the award is organised by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the nominations are made by academia of the OIC.


The Mustafa Prize hints at Islamic science’s golden age while awarding today’s achievers, says Ranjit Devraj. On Christmas day, the Islamic world sent out a reminder of its vast contributions to the advancement of science, technology and innovation (STI). At a solemn ceremony in Tehran, set off by recitations from the holy Quran, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its affiliated scientific bodies honoured the first two awardees of the Mustafa Prize for top scientists and innovators. The prize is awarded biennially for achievements in Life Sciences and Medicine, Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, Information and Communication Technology and Scientific Achievement. In the first three categories, the nominees must be citizens of one of the 57 OIC member-countries, while in the last the nominee must be a Muslim, though not necessarily a citizen of an OIC country. The awards, worth US$ 500,000 each, went to Jackie Y. Ying, CEO of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Singapore, and Omar Yaghi, co-director of the Kavli Energy Nanosciences Institute, University of California. Mohammed Javed Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister and member of the Mustafa Prize policy-making council, said he hoped that its institution would help revive the golden days of Islamic science and build bridges in the future. While the award is organised by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the nominations are made by academia of the OIC. The maiden claimants of the Mustafa Prize — described by some as the Nobel of the Islamic world — produced world-class work that easily met the criteria of improving human life through cutting-edge technology. While the Mustafa is not intended to compete with the Nobel, it certainly seemed to fill a certain gap. Said Ying: “Although there are many Muslim scientists I am afraid they haven’t received quite the same recognition as they deserve. So the Mustafa Prize is there to really highlight their achievement.”


Ying’s own achievements include development of a glucose-sensitive polymer capable of delivering insulin to diabetics orally or nasally, obviating needle pricks. The polymer also controls insulin release so that there is no fear of too much or too little of it circulating in the body. Little wonder that the pharma giant Merck forked out US$ 500 million to buy her technology. Ying’s labs have also has come up with nanotechnology that enhances drug delivery to tumours without destroying healthy cells, and toxicology tests for drugs and cosmetics that spare animals.


Jordan-born Yaghi’s achievements are no less impressive. He is credited with pioneering metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) that stitch together organic and inorganic molecules to produce new materials with truly amazing properties. MOFs have porous, crystalline, molecular structures that allow them to store large quantities of hydrogen, methane or other gases without resorting to high pressure or low temperatures. Already, BASF, the chemical giant, has begun commercial applications of MOFs that can safely store natural gas in fuel tanks and also increase vehicle range. A zirconium-based MOF developed by Yaghi cheaply extracts water from thin air, even in relatively dry regions of the world.


Apart from research work, Yaghi mentors students around the world and helps them design and develop MOFs, of which there are now hundreds transforming the way the world uses materials. “Mentoring is the golden thread of invention – what the world needs is a generation of mentors,” says Yaghi, a firm believer in the potential of harnessing youth.


Following the Mustafa Prize awards, Tehran played host to the 20th conference of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences whose theme ‘STI: Building Humanity’s Common Future’ reached beyond the OIC. A ‘Tehran Declaration’ reflects this gesture by emphasising that the “OIC and other developing countries have to create a paradigm shift to again become a community that values knowledge and become proficient in utilising and advancing S&T to enhance their socioeconomic well-being as well as humanity’s.”


Ranjit Devraj is the regional coordinator for SciDev.Net’s South Asia edition.