Universality of Science

5. Universality of Science

5.1 Freedom and Responsibility (CFRS)

The Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in the conduct of Science, CFRS, is ICSU’s custodian of the Principle of Universality of Science, which supports scientists’ freedom of movement, association, expression and communication, and promotes equitable and non-discriminatory access to science. In 2017, the committee was concerned with a wide variety of generic issues including boycotts, censorship, disruptions to academic lessons on university grounds, and travel bans as well as prosecutions of individual scientists whose human rights are violated as a result of their carrying out their research activities. The committee paid special attention to the responsibilities for individuals and institutions around conducting fieldwork in risky settings.

The Future of the Universality of Science

The committee held a session at the 2017 World Science Forum in Jordan on “The Future of the Universality of Science”. The aims of this session were:

  • to raise  awareness of the Principle;
  • to engage and discuss key issues in Freedom and  Responsibility;
  • to highlight key priorities for the future; and
  • to endorse the message of the Principle in the declaration on the last day of the forum.

The session was well attended and highlighted the ongoing relevance of the Principle of Universality of Science in the world today. The Principle was endorsed as part of  the forum’s 2017 Declaration.

Responsibility for fieldwork researchers

PhD student Giulio Regeni was killed in Egypt whilst he was carrying out fieldwork as part of his studies at the University of Cambridge. This incident prompted CFRS to  write an advisory note on the importance of institutional and individual support for  appropriate training for scientists doing fieldwork in risky situations. The advisory note  “Responsibilities for Preventing, Avoiding, and Mitigating Harm to Researchers Undertaking Fieldwork in Risky Settings” was published in September 2017.

Individual Cases

The Committee considers cases in which violation of the Principle of Universality of Science is the main issue. In 2017, the committee considered 14 cases where the rights and freedom of individual scientists to conduct their work may have been  restricted.

With a State of Emergency remaining in place in Turkey, travel restrictions have been imposed on thousands of higher education personnel, for example through the invalidation of passports. CFRS has worked closely with global human rights and  related networks in monitoring developments in the research and scholarly  communities of Turkey. The committee has also been following a group of scientists from the Bahá’í faith who were arrested in Iran in 2008 for their positions in the  community and given 20-year prison sentences. These sentences have subsequently been reduced to 10 years. This year two of the scientists, Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi, have been released after completing their sentences. Two others among the Bahá’í community leaders arrested in 2008 are still in prison.5. Universality of Science

5.2 Working with the Regions

Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Among the highlights of 2017 was the renewal of ICSU’s agreement with the Malaysian government for a further five years, meaning that the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (ICSU ROAP) will continue to be hosted by the Academy of  Sciences Malaysia until 2021.

Professor Emerita Mazlan Othman was appointed as the new Director, an  outstanding scientist with an impressive track record. Othman has a history of  working in the advancement of science and has a distinguished career which includes Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs from 2010 to 2014, and founding Director-General of ANGKASA, the Malaysian National Space Agency, from 2002 to 2007. She took up the ICSU ROAP Director’s role in September 2017.

The Regional Committee for Asia Pacific, which provides scientific advice and support, held two meetings. During one of those meetings, in Hong Kong, committee members had the opportunity to engage with the Regional Committee of the Digital Belt and Road Programme led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

An ongoing theme of work is natural hazards and disaster risk. During 2017, the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk International Centre of Excellence Taipei (IRDR  ICoE-Taipei), organized two Advanced Institutes (AIs). The purpose of such institutes is to provide early to mid-career practitioners, researchers and policy makers in the region with enhanced understanding, skills and practical knowledge in disaster risk reduction. Following each AI, participants were invited to submit a multi-country, multi-disciplinary research project for seed grants funded by IRDR ICoE-Taipei. In addition, ROAP’s Steering Group on Natural Hazards and Disaster Risks (SGNHDR) continues to actively promote the scientific study of natural hazards and risk in the region through members’ participation and contribution at key international events, as well as side meetings with national research institutes and organizations.

On Urban Health and Wellbeing, ICSU ROAP’s Science Planning Group on  Epigenetics produced an interdisciplinary science plan on the consequences of rapid urbanization and its effects on epigenetics. The Group also organized seminars with local universities in Cambodia and Sri Lanka as part of efforts to promote the  awareness and the importance of epigenetics in understanding urban health.

This year the INGSA Asia Chapter was established, to be based in the ROAP office.  This follows the first INGSA capacity building workshop in the region. ROAP will  continue to support INGSA’s objective to enhance the global science-policy interface and improve the use of evidence-based policy formulation at both national and transnational levels through workshops and fora.

Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

The Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ICSU ROLAC) took part in a wide range of meetings and activities as part of its mandate to represent the  International Council for Science in the region. In 2017, it organized and attended a number of workshops and activities related to the main areas of work in the region,  such as open data, disaster risk reduction, urban health, science advice and  mathematics. Examples of these were the Fifth Regional Platform for Disaster Risk  Reduction in the Americas in Canada and an INGSA Science Advice Workshop in  Jamaica.

Another area of focus for the office is outreach. Among the outreach-related activities of 2017 where regional office staff took part were a Science, Technology and  Innovation Workshop in Trinidad and Tobago, a workshop on Project Management and Scientific Collaboration in El Salvador, the TWAS-TYAN Young Scientists Conference (Brazil), a meeting of Ministers of Science and Technology of the OAS in Colombia,  the XI Belmont Forum Plenary Week (Brazil) and the TWAS General Assembly Meeting in Italy.

Regional Office for Africa

An important focus for the Regional Office for Africa (ICSU ROA) in 2017 was its work towards the finalization of its updated Science Plans. The African Science Plans Steering Committee (ASPSC) held its 3rd Meeting in Maputo, Mozambique to discuss implementation issues and the roll-out of projects which will flow from the plans.

ICSU ROA also continued to support the activities of the INGSA-African Chapter, which was very active in 2017. Members of the INGSA-Africa Steering Committee  participated in a workshop organized by INGSA, FRC Quebec, and the Academy of Science and Letters of Senegal in Dakar, Senegal to scope potential Francophone  members for the committee. The Steering Committee convened a training event for the 2016/17 Fellows cohort of the African Science Leadership Programme (ASLP) of the University of Pretoria, as well as a strategy retreat in Kampala, Uganda to provide  inputs to the revised Terms of Reference of INGSA Regional Chapters and draw up a plan of activities and deliverables for the period until December 2018. The Committee  also organized a capacity-building workshop during the 13th Annual Meeting of African Science Academies in Abuja, Nigeria for Academies of Science in Africa and LIRA  2030 grantees.

The 18th and 19th meetings of the ICSU Regional Committee for Africa (RCA) were  held in Lusaka, Zambia and Durban, South Africa in March and September 2018  respectively. These meetings were each followed by a one-day science seminar.

A Proposal Writing Workshop was held in December 2017, in Johannesburg, South Africa, attended by 38 scientists from the four ICSU ROA thematic areas. The  participants sought to develop project proposals based on the concepts and pillars agreed on from the revised Africa Science Plans in Maputo in February 2017.5. Universality of Science

5.3 LIRA 2030

Leading Integrated Research for Agenda 2030 in Africa (LIRA 2030 Africa) aims to develop the potential of next-generation scientists in Africa to produce and communicate integrated policy-relevant knowledge. In 2017, the programme entered
its second year.

To achieve its goals, the LIRA programme provides capacity-building activities as well as two-year grants to support integrated (inter- and trans-disciplinary) research by  engaging different disciplines and non-academic partners (i.e. civil society, policy makers, and the private sector) in the research process. LIRA2030 Africa is being delivered by the Council together with its Regional Office for Africa (ICSU ROA), the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC).

In 2017, nine collaborative research projects across Africa were awarded grants of 90 000 Euros each over two years to build understanding of the “energy–health–natural disasters” nexus in African cities. These projects aim to generate place-based knowledge that can help address the major challenges facing African cities. These challenges include mitigating health risks caused by air pollution and floods, providing decentralized water treatment for local communities, co-designing energy services with local communities, and many more. The projects bring together early-career scientists from several countries across the region Africa, including the Democratic  Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, South  Africa, Rwanda, Nigeria, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Zambia.

LIRA2030 provided a number of scientific leadership opportunities for the early-career scientists that were awarded grants in 2017, for example by inviting LIRA grantees to present at international events, including the 32nd ICSU General Assembly in Taipei and the International Trans-disciplinary Conference at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany, and others.

Representatives of LIRA projects met at the LIRA Annual Research Forum in Abuja, Nigeria to share their experiences in practising trans-disciplinary (TD) research  across the African continent, to foster collaboration and knowledge exchange across LIRA projects and to connect with major ICSU co-sponsored programmes such as  IRDR and UHW (Urban Health and Wellbeing). As part of this Forum, representatives of LIRA projects received training on science advice to governments at events held by INGSA and hosted by the Nigerian Academy of Science.

In 2017, ICSU launched the second call for pre-proposals to identify research projects in Africa that explore the development of new approaches and strategies towards the innovative re-thinking of urban futures in the region – in partnership with local  authorities, industry, communities and government.

Following the call, over 130 collaborative pre-proposals were submitted, of which 31  were selected and their authors invited to attend a five-day training workshop on trans-disciplinary research at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. 31 early-career scientists from 15 different countries across Africa attended, and represented  different disciplines, universities and communities of practice. The workshop aimed  to: strengthen scientific capacity to undertake trans-disciplinary research; enable researchers to build meaningful inter- and trans-disciplinary projects; strengthen  science communication skills; and support the development of full proposals.

Subsequent to the training, researchers were invited to submit full proposals, which  were reviewed by external experts and the LIRA Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). In February 2018, the members of the LIRA SAC met at the National Commission for Science and Technology of Malawi and selected 11 collaborative projects for funding, as listed below.

Throughout the year 2017, ICSU continued to build new partnerships around the LIRA programme. The Robert Bosch Foundation has agreed to provide financial support for a project coaching workshop for early-career scientists to ensure the successful  implementation of projects supported by the LIRA programme.

The projects that received funding as part of the 2nd LIRA call

Title of the project Principal Investigator
Management of shared sanitation facilities in informal settlements of Kisumu, Kenya and Kumasi, Ghana Simiyu Sheillah, Great Lakes University of Kisumu, Kenya
Integration of housing and health policies for inclusive, sustainable African cities Tolu Oni, University of Cape Town,
South Africa
Realising the potential of urban density to create more prosperous
and liveable informal settlements in Africa
Justin Visagie, Human Sciences
Research Council, South Africa
Standardising City-Level Data-Gathering towards Achieving
Sustainable Development Goal 11 in Africa (SCiLeD)
Peter Elias, University of Lagos,
Bridging Decentralized Energy Planning with Neighbourhood-level
Innovations in Cities of Africa: Case Studies from
Ghana and South Africa
Phumlani Stanley Nkontwana, Stellenbosch University,
South Africa
Co-Creating an Urban Framework for Localised Norms on
Sustainable Energy
Buyana Kareem, Makerere University, Uganda
Community led upgrading of informal settlements Madelein Stoffberg, Namibia University of Science and Technology
Green Spaces and Repurposing Waste: Building Capacities for
Resilience in Urban and Periurban West Africa
Safiétou Sanfo, WASCAL, Burkina Faso
Transforming southern African cities in a changing climate Alice McClure, Climate Systems Analysis Group, University of
Cape Town, South Africa
Integrating sustainable water and sanitation solutions to create safer, more inclusive and climate resilient cities in Tanzania and South Africa Lwetoijera Dickson Wilson, Ifakara Health Institute,
Co-producing urban knowledge in Angola and Mozambique through community-led data collection: towards meeting SDG 11 Sylvia Croese, University of Cape Town, South Africa

5. Universality of Science


During 2017, the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) sought to increase its involvement in the regions. Following the creation of a regional chapter in Africa, regional chapters were established for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia and the Pacific. The three are coordinated by the respective ICSU regional offices, and their aim is to strengthen science advisory capacity in developing countries by raising awareness, sharing knowledge and practices, supporting training, and research.

ICSU and INGSA successfully applied for funding to the International Development Research Center (IDRC) for a three-year project aiming to create the competencies and conditions for better use of science-based evidence to inform public policy, especially around the SDGs. As part of this project, INGSA will run regional workshops, training, and provide research grants.5. Universality of Science

5.5 Communications

In 2017, ICSU launched a fully redesigned website that is faster, mobile-friendly and more intuitive to use than the previous one. It has a number of features designed to make navigating the site easier and enable users to get more quickly to the content they are looking for. One is the new search function, which not only works better than before – it also makes suggestions as you are typing to access overview pages relating to specific topics. These topic pages represent an entirely new way to access ICSU’s diverse range of publications and other content.

The new website also integrates more deeply than before the work of the ICSU Regional Offices and features this work on the homepage, whereas previously it was hidden on a sub-section of the website.

With its publications, ICSU is moving to a digital-first paradigm. Whereas before, reports were available only as downloadable PDFs, browsable online publications are now being created, making it easier for users to access the sections most relevant to them, and doing so across devices. The first report to be published in this way was the Annual Report for 2016. In the Current, Events and Publications sections, visitors can now filter content by region, topic, type and date.

In line with web design trends, the new website is much more visual than the previous one and allows much better use to be made of photography. It structures the content more clearly, giving a better sense of the Council’s core activities and successes.

In 2018, this website will be repurposed to serve as the website of the new  International Science Council, following the merger of ICSU and ISSC in July.

Another major project in 2017 was work on the graphic and visual aspects of the new SDGs flagship report. The report was praised for its innovative look and feel. The  visuals and infographics for the report were produced by a team of designers, coordinated by the ICSU communications team.

In June, ICSU hosted for the first time a two-day communications workshop involving participants from all ICSU Regional Offices. Participants discussed the different  challenges of raising awareness for ICSU’s work in the regions, exchanged best practices and worked together to familiarize themselves with the possibilities provided by the new website. The use of social media tools as a way of reaching audiences in  the regions was also discussed.

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