Thursday, August 27, 2009

Expansion of COMEST

UNESCO's World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) is an advisory body and forum of reflection. Since it was created in 1998 it has been responsible for studies of the ethics of energy, of the teaching of ethics, and of the ethics of nanotechnology.

COMEST is managed within the Social and Human Sciences Program of UNESCO, which includes a number of ethics activities including those of the International Bioethics Committee and the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee.

The Executive Board of UNESCO will in September consider proposals to authorize COMEST to undertake the preparation of a draft declaration on Climate Change and to expand COMEST and its budget in order to undertake the climate change work in in the context of its other major commitments, to advise UNESCO on programs in science ethics, the ethics of nanotechnologies and environmental ethics teaching.

There would seem to be important ethical questions with respect to the generation and utilization of scientific knowledge with respect to climate change and with respect to the technological basis of greenhouse gas emissions, to technologies that might be useful in reducing antropogenic climate change, and with respect to technologies that might be useful in ameliorating the impacts of climate change that does occur.

One wonders wether the proposed declaration is merely poorly named, or whether COMEST is really planning to look at the ethics of a global climatic phenomenon. If the latter, would that not be better left to other international bodies focusing on the environment and climate change such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations Environmental Program, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature or the World Meteorological Organization.

The documents before the Executive Board suggest expanding membership of COMEST appointed by the Director General of UNESCO from 18 to 36 members, while removing from COMEST 10 ex oficio members from international organizations. It is not clear that the Director General is likely to select individuals who would bring more to COMEST than the current ex officio members. Nor is it clear that a 36 member COMEST would be more capable than a 28 member COMEST.

The documents also suggest more frequent meetings. Would it not be possible to save the expense by increasing use of the Internet for communication among members of the Commission, including use of video conferencing if needed?

One may also question whether the added budget requested for COMEST and the Climate Change Declaration might not be better spent in other ways. For example, UNESCO's flagship social sciences program, the Management of Social Transitions Program, might utilize a budget increase to study how social science could be brought to bear by policy makers to reduce antropogenic climate change or to improve social response for the amelioration of the impacts of climate change. Alternatively, the funds might be used within the Natural Science Programs to further international scientific cooperation in the study of the factors causing and the rate of climate change.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We Mourn the Passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy

We join millions of people around the world in mourning the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. While Senator Kennedy is being remembered for his many achievements on behalf of the poor, the downtrodden and the disenfranchised in the United States, he is also being recalled as a longtime champion and leader in advocating for the poor and for those without a voice in other countries. Senator Kennedy led the effort to secure for refugees and immigrants the right to a life with dignity while also fighting for greater resources for those around the world who suffer in poverty and with sickness. He was a strong supporter of the United Nations and its mission. And while Senator Kennedy was beloved in this country, he will also be sorely missed by people far outside our borders, especially those who will no longer have his voice to rely on for their behalf.

Ivonne Baki Receives Award

It has been announced that Ivonne Baki, candidate for UNESCO Director General, is one of 12 people selected to receive the Americas Award for Public Service in 2009. The award recognizes government officials for contributions to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. The award is made by CIFAL Atlanta, a joint initiative between UNITAR and the City of Atlanta.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Controversy About the Candidacy of Farouk Hosny for UNESCO Director General

Source: :"Very, Very Lost in Translation," by Raymond Stock, Foreign Policy, August 24, 2009.

The UNESCO Executive Board is to meet in September to consider the eight active candidates who have been nominated for the post of Director General of UNESCO. It is expected that their selection will be endorsed by the General Conference in October, and the new Director General is to take office in November. One candidate, Farouk Hosny, has proven to be especially controversial. He has been campaigning for the position for two years, and was considered the early leader, but the race has more recently been seen as open.

This new article in the influential journal, Foreign Policy, is very negative with respect to Farouk Hosny. I quote extensively:
To say that Farouk Hosni doesn't much like Israel is putting it lightly. According to the Anti-Defamation League, he has called it "inhuman," and "an aggressive, racist, and arrogant culture, based on robbing other people's rights and the denial of such rights." He has accused Jews of "infiltrating" world media. And in May 2008, Hosni outdid even himself, telling the Egyptian parliament that he would "burn right in front of you" any Israeli books found in the country's libraries......

Should Hosni's bid to be head of UNESCO succeed, as is likely, it could obscure the truly virulent prejudice that passes for cultural understanding among the Egyptian intelligentsia. Despite his apology for offering to burn books, Hosni told the Egyptian station Dream TV in July that he will oppose normalization with Israel until "two states exist" and the "Palestinian people get their right." And whatever the United Nations decides in the end, his gut feelings about Israel and the Jews are not likely to change.
This follows a widely read open letter by Bernard-Henri Levy, Ellie Wiesel and Claude Lanzman titled "UNESCO: The Shame of a Disaster Foretold." It also focuses on anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish statements by Hosny.

You might also find this exchange of interest:
Americans for UNESCO has neither endorsed nor opposed any of the eight candidates for UNESCO Director General. This posting should not be so construed, but rather seeks to share two influential publications on the race.

For more information on the election and the candidates, try:

UNESCO International Conference on Broadcast Media and Climate Change

The International Conference on Broadcast Media and Climate Change: A Public Service Remit will be held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France, 4 - 5 September 2009.

This high-level international event is organised by UNESCO in partnership with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), regional broadcasting unions and other international broadcasting organizations to consider a global consensus to raise public awareness on the challenges of climate change. More

Sunday, August 23, 2009


The Prize consists of a sum of US$25,000 and a diploma to be awarded each year to each of two prize winners.

The Prize is awarded to individuals, institutions, other entities or non-governmental organizations for excellent models, best practice, and creative use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to enhance learning, teaching and overall educational performance.

Candidatures must be presented by the government of a Member State of UNESCO or an international non-governmental organization, maintaining formal consultative relations with UNESCO and active in the relevant fields covered by the Prize. Each government or international non-governmental organization is entitled to nominate only two candidates per year. A self-nomination cannot be considered.

Deadline for submission: 30 September 2009

Information Literacy Resources Directory

The Information Literacy Section of the International Federation of Library Association and Institutions (IFLA) has created this database to record information literacy materials from different parts of the world, on behalf of UNESCO. Librarians, educators and information professionals are invited to participate.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Editorial: UNESCO and the Information Revolution -- The CI Program

One hundred years ago, there were few telephones, and only telephone connection within cities and between some large cities; the first transatlantic calls were still in the future. The first voice radio transmission had been made a couple of years earlier. While the first vacuum tube electronic devices had been invented, there were no transistors much less integrated circuits. There was no television. There were no computers.

Today, according to the ITU, there are a billion and a quarter land line telephones and well over four billion cell phones in operation. Radio and television are ubiquitous, even in developing nations. It is estimated that the number of personal computers in the world reached one billion in 2008 and will reach two billion in 2014. It is estimated that 1.6 billion people use the Internet.

While the personal computer and Internet connection are familiar to all the readers of this blog, it may be less obvious that information technology pervades our lives in other ways, from capital intensive instalations such as the data centers that were estimated to utilize half of one percent of the world's electricity in 2005 and the the supercomputers used in industry and research laboratories, to the inexpensive devices that one finds in appliances from wrist watches and home appliances to automobiles.

I suggest that we are no more likely to be able to predict the extent of the information and communications infrastructure one hundred years from now than were our ancestors to predict the extent today. I will predict that a century from now, today will be seen as the midpoint in the Information Revolution, and that the decisions made by society today will be seen as critical to the development of the Information Revolution over the next century.

Implications for UNESCO

The Information Revolution is already revolutionizing education, science, and culture -- sometimes in ways that we find most uncomfortable. As a result, new demands are being made on UNESCO to take on new programmatic challenges, and given the limitation of resources, to abandon some old priorities.

I want to direct this posting to the Communications and Information Program. That Program has leadership within the United Nations system in several key aspects of the Information Revolution.

  • While the ITU has leadership in telecommunications, UNESCO seems the appropriate agency to lead in information technology, including computers and software. Most of the billion personal computers in the world are in rich countries, while most people are in poor countries. UNESCO should lead in the intellectual exploration of how to bridge this digital divide.
  • While the world is awash with digital content, there is a dearth of content relevant to the needs of huge numbers of people in developing nations. Those people need content in languages they understand, relevant to the problems they face and resources they possess, available in forms they will use, delivered via media they will use. UNESCO should lead as the world figures out how better to deliver content to the poor majority of its inhabitants.
  • Information increasingly resides in cyberspace, but cyberspace is so new that the global community has not yet institutionalized the systems to organize cyberspace appropriately. UNESCO should lead the global intellectual effort to figure out how best to create the institutions needed for the global society to best utilize cyberspace for the storage, organization and dissemination of information.
  • UNESCO has since its founding been a bastion for the protection of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, as well as a bulwark against the propaganda of coercive governments, and these functions are perhaps increasingly important due to the Information Revolution.

The new Director General, to be chosen by the Executive Board next month and ratified by the General Conference in October, should have a strong intellectual understanding of the importance of these issues, the charisma to lead UNESCO to make rapid progress in facing them, and the humility to recognize that a very strong team within UNESCO and network outside UNESCO should be created to deal with them. He/she should be able to develop a resource base to allow UNESCO to act much more effectively than it can now on these issues

John Daly
(The opinions expressed above are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Visit of Director General to the United States

UNESCO Director General Koïchiro Matsuura visited the United States in June, During that visit he met with senior American officials to discuss new avenues for collaboration in the fields of education, culture and science.

Mr Matsuura meet with Dr Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations. I quote from UNESCO's report of the visit:
Mr Matsuura first briefed Ms Brimmer on UNESCO’s work in education, especially higher education. He highlighted the Organization’s action to promote quality assurance and the mutual recognition of qualifications in response to the massive increase in student mobility and cross-border provision. Again, the Director-General pointed to the need for US engagement. He referred in particular to the role the US could play in enhancing the quality of science education and research and in attracting more young people to the sciences. “While student numbers are rising overall, enrolment in science and technology is on the decline; we must work together to curb this trend, which has serious implications for national development and economic growth”, Mr Matsuura stated. The Director-General said that this was an area where UNESCO was looking to partner both with governments and with private sector companies, citing the successful example of the UNESCO/L’Oréal initiative to promote women in science. Ms Brimmer noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had just established an office specifically devoted to advancing public private partnerships (PPPs)........

Finally, Mr Matsuura briefly outlined UNESCO’s normative action in the field of bioethics. The Director-General explained that UNESCO had established three international instruments which together provided a set of universal standards and practical guidelines (the 1997 Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights; the 2003 International Declaration on Human Genetic Data; and the 2005 Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights). However, he said that the ethical implications of many new scientific developments still needed to be discussed, such as human cloning and stem-cell research, in particular induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells).

While in Washington, the Director-General also spoke with Dr John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and Dr Jane Lubchenco, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. He underlined the vital importance of US partnership in several UNESCO priority areas, from science policy advice and capacity-building in developing countries to ocean governance and the monitoring of climate change impacts. “For UNESCO to expand its science programme we need the involvement of the US science community – its expertise, its creativity, its entrepreneurship”, the Director-General underscored.
Read more:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Editorial: The UIS should post data on Google Fusion Tables

The UNESCO Institute of Statistics is an important repository for international statistics on education, science, culture and communications and information.

Google has provided the Fusion Data website to facilitate sharing and visualization of data. It is an experimental system for data management in the cloud. It draws on the expertise of folks within Google Research who have been studying collaboration, data integration, and user requirements from a variety of domains.

Thus Google Fusion Data offers the possibility to users to easily combine data from various sources, and to visualize that data using charts, maps, etc. Public information already available on the site includes country GDP and Child Survival.

Adding publicly available data from UNESCO would help contribute to public understanding of UNESCO's key concerns as people used the facilities, help social scientists to carry out statistical analyses, and help public policy makers to do analyses using the data more quickly and easily.

Read the Google Research Blog posting on Fusion Tables

This seems like a no brainer, and a great partnership between UNESCO and a leading American firm.

Friday, August 14, 2009

From Remarks by Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer

"We were pleased and deeply honored to win a seat on the Human Rights Council itself, and we pledge to be strong advocates of the principles that President Obama outlined yesterday.

"Those principles which are clearly articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are also rooted in ideals that we share in the United States and that we continue to try to realize. Sometimes painfully. Sometimes with difficulty. But succeeding generations of Americans have addressed these issues.

"We realize, as the phrase is used, that it’s been a long time coming. Some of the issues we’ve discussed today reveal the long distance we still have to travel before we can rest. While the U.S. treasures its freedoms, embraces its rich diversity and celebrates its history of struggle and progress, we know the struggle continues.

"In joining the Human Rights Council we accept a role in reshaping and help direct the Council, along with other members. We also know that it’s been too often distracted by attention to a single conflict and too often has not been able to address all the issues of genuine international human rights concern."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

David Killion Sworn In as U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO

David Killion was sworn in yesterday as the new American Ambassador and Permanent Representative to UNESCO. The oath to support the Constitution of the United States was administered by the Under Secretary of State. Ambassador Killion acknowledged the support of his wife, who coincidentally he met first in Paris, and of his mother, a teacher, and his father, a chemist. His acceptance speech was a reprise of the message he provided to the Congress at his confirmation hearing.

The ceremony was held in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department. It seems fitting that the Ambassador to UNESCO was sworn in in a room named after Franklin, who was among other things America's first great scientist, a writer whose autobiography and sayings are still read today, the founding President of the Academy which eventually became the University of Pennsylvania, the founder of the first public lending library in America, one of America's most accomplished and successful diplomats who loved Paris (where UNESCO is headquartered), a newspaper publisher and generally a man who exemplified in his lifetime the spirit of UNESCO.

Incidentally, the diplomatic rooms of the State Department are beautiful, furnished with American antiques from the 18th century of great beauty and value.

The ceremony was well attended, with perhaps 100 people in the audience. As I waited in line to get through the security screening needed to enter the State Department I had the pleasure of meeting Ivonne Baki, a candidate for Director General of UNESCO, who was directly in front of me. I also had the pleasure of chatting with the couple standing directly behind me, Bob Kahn (one of the inventors of the Internet) and his wife, Patrice Lyons (one of the members of the Board of Directors of Americans for UNESCO). I suspect that many of the others who attended the ceremony were comparably distinguished.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Biosphere Connections: Partnership Among the Star Alliance, UNESCO-MAB, Ramsar and IUCN

Established with the objective of promoting nature conservation and sustainable development, the Biosphere Connections partnership was launched in 2007 by the Global Airline coalition "Star Alliance" together with UNESCO-MAB, Ramsar Wetlands and IUCN.

Through Biosphere Connections, the Star Alliance will support UNESCO-MAB, Ramsar and IUCN in their conservation efforts and especially the local field scientists who conserve and manage biosphere reserves, wetlands, national parks and world heritage sites around the world. Similarly, UNESCO-MAB, Ramsar and IUCN will help Star Alliance airlines to further improve their environmental performance and their commitment to sustainable social and economic development, in the communities they serve and beyond.

SHSviews 25

UNESCO Social and Human Sciences Sector Magazine
Interview with Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Vice-President of the Permanent Forum of Arab-African Dialogue / Faced with the crisis: MOST, the think tank of nations / Dossier – Focus on Peru – July-September 2009 (English | Français)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

"Africa Analysis: Harnessing the scientific diaspora"

An article in SciDev.Net states:
The African Scientific Institute (ASI), a California-based networking organisation, recently hosted a conference to discuss how best to mobilise the diaspora. The meeting, held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, from 29 June to 1 July, asked the African Union (AU) to give the ASI a formal role in this mobilisation.

ASI's wish may be granted. This week (26 July–1 August) AU research, technology and human resources commissioner, Jean-Pierre Ezin, will visit ASI representatives in the United States to discuss how ASI can help overseas African scientists contribute to the continent's science programmes.

If the ASI gets that honour, it may be joined by South Africa. The AU and other African institutions — including the Economic Commission for Africa and the local branch of UNESCO — are all endorsing a South Africa-funded project to promote networking with the diaspora.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The United State Government Owes UNESCO a Lot of Money!

One of the problems faced by UNESCO is that its member nations do not make their assessed contributions to the Organization on time. The United States is the worst offender, and the problem is compounded by the fact that the United States as the world's richest country has the largest assessed contributions.

A document prepared for the September meeting of UNESCO's Executive Board states:
Since 80% of the total of contributions assessed for 2009 was payable by the 12 largest contributor Member States, the dates when these major contributions are received are of crucial importance for the Organization’s cash situation. The first table gives summarized information on the contributions of these 12 Member States as at 30 June 2009:

The assessed contributions for 2009 are $316 million, and were due in January. Thus the U.S. arrears represent a considerable portion of the funding of the organization, and must been seen as causing considerable difficulties in management and performance.

A Factoid from the History of U.S. Involvement with UNESCO

Myrna Loy, the actress who won an Academy Award for her lifetime career achievement in films, became a member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO in 1948, the first Hollywood celebrity to do so.

She was married from 1950 ro 1961 to Howland H. Sargeant, the only American to serve as Chairman of the General Conference of UNESCO (6th Session, 1951).

Time magazine reported at time of the General Conference:
A Republican charge that Cinemactress Myrna Loy and her new State Department husband Howland H. Sargeant had enjoyed a Paris honeymoon at government expense is just not so, declared Georgia's Democratic Congressman Prince Preston Jr. The bridegroom did indeed travel on government funds because he was on an official mission; the honeymoon was coincidental and he paid his wife's bills. Besides, Preston added, since conferences frequently started at 8 a.m. and lasted until 2 a.m., "Paris turned out to be a mighty poor place to spend a honeymoon."
Sargeant, a Rhodes Scholar, was a career diplomat who became Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs before leaving government to run Radio Liberation, which broadcast to the Soviet Union.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Shirley Malcom on Mondongo Jury

Shirley M. Malcom, Head of Education and Human Resources of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was one of five jurors selecting finalists for the Mondialogo Engineering Award by Daimler and UNESCO.
The finalists for the Mondialogo Engineering Award 2009 were selected in Stuttgart. An international jury of experts nominated 30 teams and their project ideas for the finale of the worldwide contest for engineering students organized by Daimler and UNESCO. Participants from 28 countries will be represented in the finale, among them American students from universities in Berkeley, Bethlehem, El Paso, Greensboro, Madison, Mesa, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Stanford, West Lafayette and Worcester. The finalist teams will take part in the Mondialogo Symposium from November 6 - 9, 2009 in Stuttgart, where they will receive their Awards. These will be presented in three categories: gold awards worth Euro 15,000, silver and bronze awards worth Euro 10,000 and Euro 5,000 respectively. The total award prize money is Euro 300,000 in this third round of the Mondialogo Engineering Award. Engineering students from 94 countries have submitted a total of 932 project ideas, which are focused on addressing climate change, sustainable development, and the eradication of poverty in developing countries.

International Day of the World's Indigenous People

Each year August 9th is dedicated to celebration of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, an event proclaimed by the United Nations.
Links to Some Relevant sites
The United Nation's International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples was commemorated on Wednesday 9 August 2006. Video: Esras Films and the European Commission

Monday, August 03, 2009

Social Networks Devoted to UNESCO & Links related to the Election of the New DG

One of the members of the Board of Directors of Americans for UNESCO and a contributor to this blog, John Daly, is also a manager of the UNESCO's Friends group on LinkedIn. That group was originally created by a UNESCO staff member. It has now reached nearly 500 members, including a candidate for the post of Director General of UNESCO, some UNESCO staff, and a number of diplomatic experts on the organization as well as a cross section of people from many countries interested in UNESCO.

Other social networks that deal with UNESCO include:
The Americans for UNESCO Twitter feed now has more than 1,500 followers, and has made more than 2,000 tweets.

Of special interest may be two of his recent contributions to the information on the election of the new Director General of UNESCO: