93rd Executive Council of the World Federation of Scientific Workers (WFSW)
President JEAN-PAUL LAINÉ’s Introductory presentation
Good morning, dear friends,
We are starting our first meeting since the General Assembly, an assembly that proceeded to our election and has developed a roadmap that includes a chapter on the strengthening the organization. It is within this framework that it was decided to hold two annual executive meetings, one face-to-face and the other by videoconference. The June International Secretariat therefore decided to hold this meeting remotely and – thanks to the commitment of the Portuguese affiliated organizations – to hold the face-to-face session at the end of the academic year, at the University of Evora.
Also new, the presidency is two-headed: I am delivering this presentation in the name of Elies Molins and myself, obviously inspired by the monthly secretariats and by the ‘bureau’ which has been responsible for ensuring the follow-up of decisions and the preparation of meetings.
We have also innovated in terms of organization: a reinforced secretariat, more assiduous participation of members, but with a large number having difficulties in one of our official languages, we decided to resort to one and then two interpreters. The consequences of these developments are measured in terms of finances as well as in terms of relations between colleagues, between affiliated organizations and the federation and finally in terms of initiatives and activities. We will evaluate this during these 2 days.
I will not dwell on this subject which is the goal and the justification of our personal and collective commitment: I will be followed by the spokespersons of the departments and working groups. However, I want to emphasize a few points.
- The strengthening of the International Secretariat (SI) and the executive — that we intend to pursue —, the creation of a co-presidency have had qualitative and quantitative positive effects. The organization chart with its rows and columns, its representation of well-identified ‘sectors’ and working groups and responsibilities is not just a bureaucrat’s game: it helps us all to situate ourselves, it encourages dialogue and consultation.
- I will content myself with listing a few examples of practices: the increase in our level of intervention, collaboration and interpersonal relations with our interlocutors at UNESCO; the monitoring of the campaign for a fund for research in Africa; the relay by some of our affiliated organizations of the statements of the WFSW; a conference in which our representative has presented his own work in a particular science and the principles of the WFSW on science in general; the setting up of a seminar for stakeholders allowing a pluralistic approach.
- We have the ambition to be one of the authentically pluralistic networks in the field of research policy and to be able to to be able to speak relevantly to international institutions and political and economic decision-makers: our current priority seems to us to be the internal and external communication: there is an urgent need to develop and improve tools such as the mailing lists and in particular the so-called “Enlarged EC” list, our website as well as our presentation on the Wikipedia.
Challenges are piling up for our humanity (climate change, resource depletion, disappearance of species, pandemics, recourse to war going as far as nuclear risk, nationalism and xenophobia, inequalities and glaring injustices, compulsory migration-refuge, etc.): our spacecraft “Earth”, although damaged, risks soon seeing the Anthropocene give way. I will not dwell today on all these immense problems which are essentially generated by our societies and human relationships, the leaders we give ourselves, our inability to go beyond traditions, selfishness, the quest for power…and our unreasonable demographics.
Because we have dealt with this extensively in our previous Assemblies, we suggest Elies and I, this time approaching these major problems from the angle: what must we, scientific workers, do so that Science is more of a solution than a problem? Let us not content ourselves with denouncing, announcing the catastrophe, but let us see objectively the Science and technology of this first quarter of the 21st century.
It is not surprising that Science, which is a human work, is ambivalent.
On the one hand, advances in science cover all areas with significant successes. Science and technology have made it possible to create vaccines against Ebola and against malaria in children, they have made it possible in record time to produce (which does not mean to make available whatever the country and the financial means) vaccines against Covid-19 as it might have seemed like science fiction a few years ago. Genetic techniques consisting in deleting, replacing or adding a DNA sequence at a specific location are very promising. No-till agriculture is growing rapidly (especially in South America) resulting in less erosion, increased biodiversity and little or no use of fertilizers and pesticides. Let us also mention the progress of quantum computers, the progress of artificial intelligence or the use of gene sequencing to understand the intestinal microbiota but also human evolution and migration, the discovery of links between the configuration of proteins and neuro-degenerative diseases, and 70 years after their prediction, the discovery of gravitational waves, etc. I have stopped here with an enumeration concerning very different fields and deliberately mixing fundamental research and applied research that could cover pages and pages. It is true that it is one of the epics of the “Homo Sapiens” adventure which must be mainly an open work, produced and beneficial on all continents.
But on the other hand, there is another observation to be made: despite the ambitious declarations, the high-profile shock resolutions of the leaders, the share of GNP devoted to research, both public and private, is stagnating and remains far from the stated objectives: only South Korea crosses 3%; France, for example, remains at 2.2%. On the other hand, and particularly when economic or political domination is at stake, the red lines turn green: we then observe the increase in military budgets and particularly in research for military purposes. We remain far from the need to put all human intelligence at the service of the battle against the great challenges mentioned above. As an image of the mode of development over the last centuries, I will take the case of energy. From the simple use of our muscles and those of domestic animals, water and wind in the neighborhood we have moved on to the exploitation of all the past and present production of our “boiler”, the sun. How did the leaders manage all this? Alongside advances in knowledge and know-how, they set in motion the race to acquire resources by all means, war and colonization.
Today, with looming shortages, people are told to be sober while the powerful travel in private jets. Research is more and more oriented towards advances leading to fabulous markets and profits while it is insufficiently invested in the potential of “green hydrogen”, nuclear fission with recycling of waste, nuclear fusion and even other sources.
Above I have proposed some priorities concerning organization. I would like to end this introductory presentation by listing a series of subjects in relation to the context described and falling within the roadmap voted in Marrakech:
- In all of the above, we find principles appearing in UNESCO initiatives (Open Science for example): it is more useful than ever to work with and within this institution and its Liaison Committee with NGOs. We are naturally in tune with the Millennium Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals.
- We need to reinvest strongly in the question of the condition and orientation of research and the condition of researchers; Working Group 3 needs to be reinforced.
- More than ever, it is necessary to defend independence, academic freedom and the broadest cooperation without consideration of cultures, religions and geopolitics. The participation of friends from Latin America will help to take and implement initiatives.
- Consolidate our “Peace, disarmament and cooperation” activity, which we are proud to represent our “DNA”. Reflection on the UN and for the development of regulations on a global scale should be relaunched. Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine strongly invite us to do so.
- Pursue our campaign for the establishment of a fund for research in Africa
- Science is a global epic (I repeat myself), an adventure of all of humanity, it is not the property of capitalism, or the West, or the white man. The place of women is yet to be conquered.
- This campaign, like the launch of our reflection on the oceans, will lead us to clarify our values and our ambition in the management of our planet: to develop a sense of commonality, ensure that all activities and strategic regions on Earth and in Space are managed collectively.
The future of our civilization will be common or it will not be.
In conclusion, during these two days, we must discuss our missions and vision as well as how to improve our organization and our functioning to become more visible and more effective in our forum and influencer roles.
Thank you for your attention.
December 12, 2023