ICSU is an international non-governmental and non-profit-making scientific organization whose principal objectives are:
(1) to encourage and promote international scientific and technological activity for the benefit and well being of humanity;
(2) to facilitate coordination of the activities of the International Scientific Unions;
(3) to facilitate coordination of the international scientific activities of its National Members;
(4) to stimulate, design, coordinate or participate in the implementation of international interdisciplinary scientific programmes;
(5) to act as a consultative body on scientific issues that have an international dimension.
In respect of objectives (2) and (3), ICSU never attempts to interfere in any way with the activities of the Unions any more than with those of its National Members (Scientific Research Councils or Science Academies). In pursuit of objective (1), it does make grants to the Unions from its own funds and other sources of funding to which it has access. Objectives (4) and to some extent (1) give rise to ICSU's global programmes such as the International Geophysical Year. In addition to the 20 International Scientific Unions and 75 multidisciplinary National Members, ICSU has 29 Scientific Associates, which are mainly international or regional federations and some of them are, in fact, International Scientific Unions not representing a single scientific discipline.
The decision-making bodies are: the General Assembly which meets every three years, the General Committee which looks after ICSU's affairs between General Assemblies and meets every year, and the Executive Board which looks after matters between the General Committee meetings. The IUCr Representative, who traditionally is the IUCr Immediate Past President, is an ex officio member of the General Committee. Within ICSU, the Unions and National Members conduct their interdisciplinary affairs largely in three working groups: (a) Biological Sciences; (b) Chemical, Mathematical, Physical, Earth and Space Sciences; (c) National Members. The Standing Committees of ICSU include the Committees on: Admissions, Finance, Structure and Statute, Free Circulation of Scientists, ICSU Press.
Because of objectives (4) and (5), there are a number of special Committees dealing with many general problems of science and technology in the world, like the Committees on: Agriculture, Forestry and Aquaculture; Biotechnology; Data for Science and Technology; Genetic Experimentation; Space Research; Science and Technology in Developing Countries; Water Research; Teaching of Science; Astronomical and Geophysical Data Analysis; Bioscience Networks; Natural Disasters; Radio Astronomy and Space Science; Geosphere-Biosphere Programme; Antarctic Research; Environment; Oceanic Research; Solar-Terrestrial Physics; World Climate Research; World Data Centres. These committees are becoming increasingly important in overall ICSU thought and planning.
ICSU occupies a unique role on the international scientific scene combining, as it were, the roles of the national academies of science and the supra-national characteristics of bodies such as UNESCO, but without political influences. It also acts as an interdisciplinary coordinator between the Scientific Unions and to a certain extent as the social conscience of science, a role that is not duplicated elsewhere.
In the last triennium, during the 28th General Assembly, held in Sofia, Bulgaria (1-5 October 1990), inter alia, it was decided that the General Assembly should meet every three years, rather than every two years as previously, and an ad hoc Committee was established to look into the problems of scientific research in central and eastern Europe.
At the 29th General Committee meeting, held in Oslo, Norway (25-27 September 1991), many problems concerning the organization of ICSU and the major programmes in which the Council is involved were examined and discussed. Also, the importance of ICSU's close cooperation with the scientific communities in central and eastern Europe, the availability of scientific literature for developing countries and the intellectual property aspects of the new generation of machine-readable text were considered.
Many general topics were discussed at the 30th General Committee held in Jerusalem, Israel (5-7 November 1992), among them it was found that: concerning free circulation of scientists, the number of cases of visa difficulties is decreasing, while other types of human rights issues involving the freedom of the pursuit of science is increasing; ICSU might contribute to the general problem of ethics in science; more cooperation with scientists in developing countries should be promoted; cooperation with scientists in central and eastern Europe needs more effective coordination. Some amendments of Statutes have been proposed to ensure equality of votes for the two categories of membership, and financial aspects concerning annual dues of the members were considered to be submitted for approval to the 24th General Assembly which will be held in Santiago, Chile (October, 1993). Plans for the organization of this meeting were also discussed.
During these meetings, the IUCr Representative had the opportunity of illustrating: the policy of the IUCr for helping young scientists, particularly from countries with financial difficulties, to attend international scientific meetings and Schools on crystallography; the IUCr Visiting Professorship Programme organized by the IUCr Teaching Commission; the developments in automation of the publishing activity at the Chester Office; the new Section D of Acta Crystallographica on biological crystallography.
An interesting aspect of the General Committee meetings concerns the reports the Union Representatives give to illustrate the new scientific developments in the fields covered by their Unions. These reports were found very interesting and it is useful to have a picture of what is going on at the frontiers of modern science in the world.
30 March 1993 M. NARDELLI, Representative
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