Thursday, March 16, 2006

Science in UNESCO

On Monday 13 March, Koïchiro Matsuura, the Director-General of UNESCO, opened the first meeting of the Committee reviewing UNESCO's science programs with an important address.

Here are some excerpts:
When plans were being laid for the foundation of the Organization towards the end of the Second World War, education was the main theme; the S for “scientific” was added only in November 1945 by the preparatory commission that met in London to create UNESCO as we know it today. The change was made mainly in response to the advocacy of many scientists’ groups, particularly in the United Kingdom. With the appointment of Julian Huxley as UNESCO’s first Director-General, the place of science and technology was strengthened, given that he was not only a distinguished scientist but also a great popularizer of science.

Since then, the action of the Organization in the natural sciences and the social and human sciences has developed in a rich variety of ways, always in keeping with its constitutional purpose “of advancing, through the educational and scientific and cultural relations of the peoples of the world, the objectives of international peace and the common welfare of mankind for which the United Nations was established and which its Charter proclaims”.

Needless to say, we must stress the relevance of this purpose for our future action. This relevance endures despite – and because of – the great changes that have taken place over recent decades during which the international community has had to tackle many major, inter-related challenges. To effectively address the complexity of these challenges, the evidenced-based contributions of a wide range of scientific disciplines are required. Four main areas of understanding must be enhanced:
First, we must gain a better understanding of the impact of human activity, which has often had disastrous consequences for the sustainability of our natural environment in many parts of the world.

Second, we need to better appreciate the key role that science and technology play in development, in the struggle against poverty and in ensuring human security for the most vulnerable populations.

Third, we need a deeper understanding of the various social transformations which characterize our contemporary world, particularly in the context of accelerating globalization, which is also having an important impact in the so-called “politics of knowledge”. After all, many countries tend to finance scientific and technological research in those fields that can strengthen their competitiveness in the global arena.

Fourth, we must better understand the impact of scientific and technological progress itself on societies, including the way in which major developments are giving rise to more and more important ethical questions, for example (but not only) in the field of bioethics.
All these issues must be tackled together, taking into consideration the clear trends relating to the growing gap between a relatively small number of industrialized countries, which account for more then 80 per cent of scientific research in all fields, and the rest of the world. A related issue is the phenomenon of brain drain, which continues to be a major problem despite some recent progress in a few countries to ensure new opportunities for their graduates of higher scientific education.

Summary Findings and Recommendations of Recent UNESCO Evaluations

This Word document compiles the findings and recommendations of evaluations carried out on activities and programs of UNESCO's Major Programs II (Natural Sciences) and III during the 2004 – 2005 biennium, as presented to UNESCO’s Executive Board last year. The programs included are:
* The Environment and Development in Coastal and Small Islands (CSI) Platform

* UNESCO’s Contributions to the World Solar Programme 1996-2005

* The Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program

* Information Services in Social and Human Sciences

* “Cities: Management of Social and Environmental Transformations” MOST Project

* UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme (2002-2003)

* UNESCO─IUGS International Geological Correlation Programme (IGCP)

* Small Historical Coastal Cities (SHCC)

* International Hydrological Programme (IHP-V) 1996-2001
Full versions of the evaluations are available from UNESCO on request.

Review of UNESCO's Science Programs

An overall review of UNESCO’s Major Program II -Natural sciences- and Major Program III -Social and Human Sciences- has been initiated. The review is to take place against the background of the Organization’s mandate, country and regional priorities and today’s global needs. The results of the review are to contribute to program planning and to form an integral part of the preparation of the Draft Medium-Term Strategy for 2008-2013 and the Draft Program and Budget for 2008-2009.

A Review Committee has been formed with two members from the United States:
* Dr. Kathie L. Olsen, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer, National Science Foundation, and
* Dr. Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development and Director, Science Technology & Innovation, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University.
The Review Committee held its first meeting at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on March 13 to 15, 2006.

Water and Indigenous Peoples

Edited by R. Boelens, M. Chiba and D. Nakashima. Knowledges of Nature 2, UNESCO: Paris, 177 pp., March 2006.

To request a copy, email -

This book has been launched by UNESCO during the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City (March 2006). It is based on the papers delivered atf the Second and Third World Water Forums (The Hague in 2000 and Kyoto in 2003). It brings to the fore some of the most incisive critics from indigenous communities of international debates on water access, use and management, as well as indigenous expressions of generosity that share community knowledge and insight in order to propose remedies for the global water crisis.

Water and Indigenous Peoples
advocates a revision of international development efforts to fully embrace indigenous peoples' knowledge, values, land tenure, customary management, social arrangements and rights pertaining to water. Contributions cover a wide array of approaches and issues, ranging from 'worldviews' to 'rights-based struggles'.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Follow-up to the World Summit on the Intormation Society

UNESCO has for some time had created a website communicating about its actions following up the WSIS.

It has now opened an online platform to facilitate initial contacts among stakeholders and to launch activities under the Action Lines of the Geneva Plan of Action that are in the area of competence of the Organization.

These action lines include the following:

# C3: Access to information and knowledge

# C7: E-learning and E-science

# C8: Cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content

# C9: Media

# C10: Ethical dimensions of the Information Society

The platform is intended to gather the opinion on all aspects related to multi-stakeholder implementation of all those who are interested in working to implement the above action lines.

There has also been published by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), following up WSIS:


The Golden Book is a permanent record of the new commitments and resources pledged by stakeholders during the Tunis Phase of WSIS. Participants and stakeholders at the Summit were asked to submit details of their activities planned and announced during the Tunis Phase using an online questionnaire to highlight the different activities being undertaken to implement the WSIS Plan of Action. As a result, ITU estimates that at least € 3.2 billion (US$ 3.9 bn) were committed to activities promoting the WSIS goals during the Tunis Phase. The Golden Book highlights some of the valuable work being done around the world to promote ICTs in projects, large and small, by governments, individuals or team effort, for the benefit of all. It provides illustrative examples of new and innovative projects to build infrastructure, promote ICTs in education, health and governance, ensure fair access and enhance online security. A database and online search engine are available to help agencies, NGOs and administrators make contact with networks and support organizations within their field and area of operations.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Creating the Information Commons for e-Science: Toward Institutional Policies and Guidelines for Action

Go to the conference website.

This International Workshop was held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 1-2 September 2005.

It was an important element of ongoing efforts to achieve the broader goals of The World Summit on the Information Society. In particular, this workshop aimed to promote development of institutional policies and guidelines for action in support of the “information commons” for e-science. The work plan comprised four objectives:

* Review opportunities/challenges for realising global collaborative e-science on the emerging "cyber-infrastructure."
* Review government and university mechanisms for managing publicly funded scientific information in the digitally networked research environment; identify problems and develop procedural solutions.
* Identify and analyse institutional, economic, policy, and legal benefits/drawbacks to providing public access to and unrestricted use of publicly funded scientific information.
* Put forward resolutions/recommendations that enable the scientific community to more effectively utilise publicly funded scientific data and information.

The draft proceedings are available online.

"Education Makes News" training kit

UNESCO has launched a revised and improved the Education For All media training and resource kit titled “Education Makes News”. Education for All (EFA) is the international initiative to achieve education for all by 2015. The kit is to be used to encourage the communication media to highlight EFA goals locally, regionally and globally. The kit can be used to develop the interest, knowledge and skills of journalists and other media professionals in writing, reporting and investigating the EFA issues. It can help them to create stories from statistics and bring the EFA debate to the center stage. The revised kit has been updated with recent statistics, facts, and examples and newly organized contents. The technology used in the Computer Based Training (CBT) is simplified for easy use by learners/trainers.

Click here to downloaded the kit.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The McBride Commission and its Findings

A major reason that the United States withdrew from UNESCO in the 1980's was the anger generated by UNESCO's discussions of a New World Information and Communications Order.

A major contribution to that discussion was a UNESCO publication, "Many Voices, One World". This was the report of UNESCO's International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems. The Commission is ofter known as the McBride Commission, after its chair, Sean MacBride.

As a result of the report, UNESCO is described by Sourcewatch as having launched the International Program for the Development of Communication. (The United States is now a donor to this program.) The Program web site states that it "exists to strengthen the means of mass communication in developing countries, by increasing technical and human resources for the media, by developing community media and by modernising news agencies and broadcasting organizations."

McBride was an interesting man, and the scion of a famous Irish family (see a brief bio). An Irish statesman, he was born in Paris. His father was executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising. His mother was Maud Gonne MacBride, a beauty and one of the strongest advocates of Irish Nationalism. Together with William Butler Yeats, Maude Gonne helped establish the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. (Yeats fell in love with her and his feelings for her inspired a large number of poems. In 1902 Gonne played the leading role in his play, Kathleen Ni Houlihan.)

Sean McBride was Irish Minister for External Affairs when the Council of Europe was drafting the European Convention on Human Rights and is credited with being a key force in securing the acceptance of this convention. He was President of the International Board of Amnesty International for 14 years, and Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists for seven. He was also elected Chair (1968-1974) and later President(1974-1985) of the International Peace Bureau. In 1973 he was elected by the General Assembly of the United Nations to the post of UN Commissioner for Namibia with the rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his life's work in 1974. He died in 1988.

The McBride principles, named after San McBride, were adopted as US law in 1998 creating a fair employment code for US companies in Northern Ireland, and contributing to the peace in Ireland.

The MacBride Round Table on Communication is a communications rights advocacy group created in 1989 to stimulate discussion of issues embodied in the 1980 UNESCO MacBride Report.

The reassessment of the McBride Report continues. For example, Andrew Calabrese has written a paper, "The MacBride Report: Its Value to a New Generation". Similarly, Stewart M. Hoover, has written a paper citing the report, titled "All Power to the Conglomerate: If Information Is a Commodity, What Price Is International Understanding?".

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Philip Hall Coombs; Education Expert and Advocate

Read the obituary in the Washington Post, March 10, 2006.

Read the obituary in the New York Times, March 7, 2006.

Philip Hall Coombs, 90, the first assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, died Februar 15, 2006 in Chester, Conn.

Mr. Coombs worked for UNESCO's International Institute for Educational Planning in Paris. In 1970, he became vice chairman and then chairman of the International Council of Economic Development, focusing on improving education in developing countries.

His books include "The Fourth Dimension of Foreign Policy" (1964); "Education and Foreign Aid" (1965); "Attacking Rural Poverty: How Nonformal Education Can Help" (1974); and "The World Crisis in Education: The View From the Eighties" (1985).

"We praise education's virtues and count on it to help the new generation solve great problems which the older generation has failed to solve," Secretary Coombs told an international meeting in Washington in 1961. "But when it comes to spending more money for education, our deeds often fail to match our words."

22 March - World Day for Water 2006: Water and Culture

Go to UNESCO's website for the World Day for Water 2006.

The United Nations General Assembly has declared that 22 March of each year is World Day for Water. States are invited to devote the Day, as appropriate in the national context, to concrete activities such as the promotion of public awareness through the publication and diffusion of documentaries and the organization of conferences, round tables, seminars and expositions related to the conservation and development of water resources and the implementation of the recommendations of Agenda 21.

World Water Day (WWD) 2006 will be guided by the theme 'Water and Culture' under the leadership of UNESCO.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Japan-UNESCO agreement signed

Read the full story on the Bahrain News Agency website.

UNESCO and Japan have signed two agreements to establish an international center in Japan on how to manage water engendered dangers, aiming, particularly, at preventing natural disasters such as Tsunami and hurricanes. The center was inaugurated on March 6 at the Japanese Institute of public works researches in Tsukuba, Japan. It is to focus on research, and on the creation of information networks on water-engendered dangers and their management. The Center is to be added to a 12-center network, already created under the superintendence of UNESCO.

"UNESCO: Sixty Years of Standard-Setting in Education, Science and Culture"

Go to the Conference website.

This Symposium is is to take place 9-10 March 2006 in Paris at the UNESCO Headquarters. It has been organized by UNESCO's Office of International Standards and Legal Affairs.

UNESCO has adopted over the last sixty years 35 conventions, 31 recommendations and 13 declarations in the fields of education, science and culture.
* What has become of all these instruments ?

* Have they contributed to the realization of the principles and objectives of UNESCO as laid down in its Constitution ?

* What is their impact on national laws and policies of Member States ?

* Have they become part of international law ?
This symposium on UNESCO’s standard-setting activities - the first of its kind - is organized in the context of the sixtieth anniversary of the Organization. It brings together eminent international legal scholars and practitioners to address the above issues, and to assess the impact of UNESCO’s standard setting-activities in the realization of the mandate of the Organization.

Two experts from U.S. universities are included among the distinguished participants:
* Prof. Ruth OKEDIJI from the University of Minnesota, and

* Prof. Jerome H. REICHMAN from Duke University.

UNESCO Chair Program Celebrates International Women's Day

Women diplomats in China appointed counselors for the UNESCO Chair Program on media and gender. Photo:

A celebratory event to mark International Women's Day was held Monday in Beijing as part of the program of the UNESCO Chair on Media and Gender. The Communication University of China in Beijing leads the UNESCO Chair Program. The program is reported to have paid special attention to supporting women in Tibet's Bailang County, one of the poorest areas in China.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Science, Technology and Economic Development in South East Europe

Read the book online.

UNESCO-ROSTE launched its Science Policy Series with a study entitled 'Science, Technology and Economic Development in South East Europe'. The five countries concerned are: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, FYR of Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro. The publication underlines the urgent need for decision makers to take steps necessary to ensure that science and technology re-gain a leading role in national development strategies as a key element for the integration of concerned countries into the knowledge based society.

Milica Uvalic, SCIENCE POLICY SERIES Volume N°1., UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science in Europe, 79 pp., 2005.

U.S. Public Opinion on International Relations

"America's Place in the World 2005: An Investigation of the Attitudes of American Opinion Leaders and the American Public About International Affairs"

This is a study produced by the Pew Center for the People and the Press in association with the Council on Foreign Relations. It is the latest of a series. It is perceived by many to indicate a shift toward isolationism on the part of the American Public.

Peter Beinhart wrote last month, for example:
Public isolationism has jumped sharply since 2002. Even more striking is the change in elite opinion. According to a recent Pew study, the percentage of security experts who say the United States should be highly assertive around the world has dropped from 75 percent in 1993 to 53 percent today. Among leading scientists and engineers, it has dropped from 55 percent to 32 percent. Among top religious leaders, it has fallen from 57 percent to 36 percent.

Larry Seaquist, a member of the Board of Directors of Americans for UNESCO, provided a column by David Brooks of the New York Times, in which he takes an alternative view:
A polling analyst, Ruy Teixeira, has taken the closest look at the data over at his Web site, Donkey Rising. Teixeira argues that instead of seeing a turn to isolationism, what we are seeing in poll after poll is public opinion returning to normal post-World War II levels, after the unusual 9/11 blip.

Much of the isolationist talk started when a Pew survey found that 42 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. should mind its own business internationally, a 12-point rise over three years. But Teixeira points out that the 42 percent number puts Americans back where they were throughout the Clinton years, when Americans supported more foreign interventions than ever before.

Ruy Teixeira, on his website "Donkey Rising", in fact wrote:
Is the US public moving toward isolationism? Last week, I cited the John Mueller article on “The Iraq Syndrome” that suggested a trend among the public toward isolationism was likely in reaction to the Iraq debacle. Partial confirmation of this trend is provided by data from a new Pew Research Center/Council on Foreign Relations study, “American’s Place in the World, 2005". I say partial confirmation for two reasons: (1) There are counter-trends that suggest the public mood cannot easily by typecast as simply isolationist; and (2) The move away from internationalism, such as it is, is mostly relative to the post-September 11, 2001 surge in internationalism. Therefore, the public is mostly returning to the status quo ante–the post Vietnam era of qualified internationalism--rather than true isolationism.

Brooks seems clearly to have wrongly interpreted Teixeira, who thinks that the level of isolationism is returning to post Desert Storm levels, not post WWII levels. The key finding from the Pew study is shown in the graph below:

The report itself states:
Fully 42% of Americans say the United States should “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” This is on par with the percentage expressing that view during the mid-1970s, following the Vietnam War, and in the 1990s after the Cold War ended.
Thus, on the basis of this one indicator, public opinion appears more isolationist not only than after WWII, when the failure of isolationism was fresh in the minds of the public, but than at any time other than right after Viet Nam and right after Desert Storm.

Teixeira also writes:
Data on the UN are somewhat contradictory. On the one hand, favorability toward the UN has nosedived, so it is now 29 points lower than it was just prior to September 11, 2001. And sentiment that the “The United States should cooperate fully with the United Nations” is now at just 54 percent, down 13 points from just before 9/11 and 6 points since 2002 (though this is still substantially higher than the previous low of 46 percent in 1976). But views on whether “strengthening the UN” should be a top priority (40 percent) are just about the same as they were before 9/11 and quite a bit higher than they were in 1997 (30 percent).

However, consider the results from "Americans on Addressing World Poverty of June 2005":
A large majority of Americans favors the US committing to the goal of devoting seven-tenths of one-percent of GDP to reducing world poverty, provided that other developed countries do so as well. An equally large majority favors the US committing up to $50 a year per taxpaying household to meet the Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015—once again, provided that other developed countries do so as well.

I suggest that public opinion polls show a reduction in support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the related policies in the Middle East and West Asia. The changing views of the United Nations, especially if ascertained in the context of the wars, are probably also related to the conflict. Few opinion leaders and few in the public would distinguish the United Nations and its peace keeping functions, from the IAEA and its non-proliferation functions, from the decesntralized agencies such as UNESCO.

In fact I suppose there is great public support for some U.N. agencies. Thus the concern for a possible avian flu pandemic has required leadership on a global level from the World Health Organization, and I would guess that there is practically no isolationism expressed in terms of waiting for the pandemic to hit the United States, rather than working through multilateral channels to stop the disease where it breaks out in the human population.

I would suggest that UNESCO represents a special case. Opinion leaders and the public should be very supportive of its efforts toward Education for All. They should see international cooperation in science to be a public good, promoted effectively by UNESCO. But due to the long period that the United States was out of UNESCO, Americans know even less about it than about other U.N agencies. At a time when Americans for UNESCO is seeking to promote more linkages between UNESCO and its natural consitituencies in the United States, and to promote better understanding of UNESCO, those efforts might well be endangered by fall-out criticism of other international policies or of the United Nations.

I was especially concerned that opinion leaders from the scientific and engineering community were among the least positive in these Pew study toward international involvement of the United States. These communities should be important constituencies for and collaborators with UNESCO. It would be especially unfortunate if these communities were to form negative opinions of UNESCO. On the other hand, the survey suggests that these communities "in the know" about the environmental threats that face the international community, should also be the first to recognize the importance of UNESCO's water and oceanographic programs.

UNESCO at the African Union Summit

The African Union held a Summit meeting in Khartoum, Sudan in January.

UNESCO provided a documentary exhibition describing the works of UNESCO in the service of culture, science and technology on the continent. Click here to see the exhibit.

Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, Director General of UNESCO addressed the heads of government and other attendees at the meeting. Click here to read his remarks.

Among other decisions, the Summit:
* Called upon the international community and in particular the relevant UN Agencies to render maximum support and assistance to the countries in the Horn and Eastern African region affected by long term drought with a view to saving human lives and minimizing the effect of the drought on the livelihood of the peoples;

* Requested that the Commission (in cooperation with a Group of Experts) consider further the establishment of an African Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (AFESCO).