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ISC hosts Virtual Circle Table on Combating Systemic Discrimination in Science at Falling Walls

The ISC and Falling Walls will gather experts on 5 November to discuss the transformations needed to dismantle systemic racism and discrimination in science systems.

Since its first annual meeting on 9 November 2009 – the 20th anniversary of the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall – the Falling Walls Conference and Berlin Science Week have grown into a World Science Summit – with one question at its core: Which are the next walls to fall in science and society? For the first time, the ISC has teamed up with Falling Walls to bring a “Circle Table”, normally held in person but this year online.

“The metaphor of Falling Walls is really to create spaces for dialogue about big societal changes that cross boundaries,”

Heide Hackmann, ISC CEO

The ISC circle table looked at combating systemic discrimination in science. With the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020, communities around the world were again reminded of the persistent scourge of systemic racism in our societies. A much-needed global dialogue was ignited by this event, which must be convened in all societies and in all sectors of society, including the science system.

It is apparent that systemic racism exists and persists in the sciences. The enterprise of science (scientific institutions, organizations, businesses, and systems) mirrors the societies in which it is embedded. This means that the global science community needs to reckon with the pain of injustice experienced by colleagues subjected to racism and all other forms of prejudicial treatment within the institutions of science. Silence and inaction included, as they sustain these discriminatory practices.

The discussion, moderated by Nuala Hafner of Global Science TV, featured four speakers who brought their unique lens to the global discussion on combating systemic racism and discrimination in science systems:

Anthony Bogues: a writer, curator, scholar on African and African Diaspora political theory and intellectual history. He is currently the Director Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice, and the Asa Messer Professor of Humanities and Critical Theory at Brown University. 

“Part of the problem is the structure of higher education itself, in which we think in competitive terms rather than in collaborative terms, partly because we chase after the same funding from the same sources. The so-called developed countries have an advantage to the global south and we need to start questioning these structures and hierachies,”

Anthony Bogues

Adam Habib: an academic, research and administration expert. He is currently the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and incoming Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

“If we are going to address the transnational challenges of our times, you have to increase human and institutional capacity across the world. Around 80% of the brightest from the global south do not return after education in universities in the developed world. We need to bridge the institutional and national divides by linking universities and developing co-curricular programmes. We have the technologies to do this, but not the funding or political will. Science has no boundaries, and we need to make this a reality, rather than just a slogan,”

Adam Habib

Tolullah Oni: a public health physician and urban epidemiologist. She is the joint lead of the Global Diet and Activity Research Group, University of Cambridge, Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Founder – Principal of UrbanBette.

Mary Robinson: Mary Robinson served as President of Ireland from 1990-1997 and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2002. She is Chair of The Elders, a member of the Club of Madrid and the recipient of numerous honours and awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the President of the United States Barack Obama. Mary is a Patron for the International Science Council.

This virtual event is a part of ISC’s commitment to combating systemic racism and other forms of discrimination by:

Download the full ISC statement here. 

  • Gathering existing knowledge on discrimination in science
  • Convening a global dialogue within and beyond the institutions of science‘ and
  • Agreeing on additional concrete steps aimed at correcting systemic discrimination in science.
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