UNESCO, Paris, 19-23 February 1996

Opening Address by Federico Mayor

Director-General of the United Nations Educational,Scientific and Cultural Organization, (UNESCO)

Mr. Chairman,
Mr. President of the International Council of Scientific Unions,
Dear colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all to UNESCO Headquarters and to this expert conference devoted to the subject of Electronic Publishing in Science.

I am particularly pleased to acknowledge this event as one more example of the close working relationship between UNESCO and ICSU – representing as they do the intergovernmental and non-governmental strands of science. The meeting bears witness to the complementarity of our two approaches, and is one of a series of activities conducted between the UNESCO Science Sector and ICSU Press, the publishing service of ICSU, focussed on a subject of great concern internationally and a basic issue for UNESCO in our mission of building peace — the transfer of scientific knowledge. I can cite the creation of the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) as another concrete action of ICSU Press in this same area that has had the support of UNESCO.

In addition to the various scientific unions that are represented here, I am pleased to welcome representatives of library associations with which the Organization works, as well as many members of the International Group of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM), a non-governmental organization having information and consultative relations with UNESCO. The meeting has thus met its aim of bringing together the various groups having a direct interest in the future of science publishing.

Mr. Chairman,
Science is nothing if not communicated to others. Without the regular interchange of ideas and the testing of arguments, hypotheses and theories, there can be no development of scientific thought nor advancement of research. The transmission of ideas and knowledge is one of the most fundamental human needs. The prime requirements for an active scientist are access to the literature of his or her subject, and the ability to transmit his or her ideas to others.

The importance of a viable science publishing industry is apparent to all; but so too is the impact that the new electronic communication technologies are likely to have on science and scientists alike in the coming years. I do not need to describe the many challenges that electronic publishing will present – indeed is already presenting. There are many unanswered questions and issues to be addressed — I can mention among others the copyright of electronically transmitted material, the security and long-term storage of archived material, peer review, and so on. Cyberspace presently appears as an immense territory without rules and laws and without traffic norms. You will have the opportunity of discussing these issues at length in the days to come.

What is clear is that the new technologies hold out the promise of dynamic interaction and rapidity of diffusion never imagined within the context of traditional print-on-paper publishing. And the possibilities of creating ‘virtual’ research groups linking researchers across the world offer enormous potential for international cooperation.

UNESCO has always had a keen interest in promoting the transfer of scientific knowledge throughout the world, and in particular to the developing countries. Will electronic publishing be a means of ensuring access to the literature for the scientist at present isolated in his or her laboratory, or will it prove to be a technology more likely to widen the gap even more between the knowledge ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’?

The issue of worldwide access to scientific knowledge was behind my recent decision to set up an International Advisory Council on Global Scientific Communications (ACOSC), made up of leading scientists to advise me on the possible use of modern communication technologies in science and the measures that the Organization might take in increasing the use of these new information channels. The Council is under the distinguished chairmanship of Professor Joshua Lederberg, and I am very pleased to note that Prof. Lederberg will give one of the two summary presentations to the Conference on Thursday morning.

During the course of the week numerous issues will be discussed and debated. I hope that you will be able to develop recommendations and some much-needed guidelines for all those with a stake in electronic publishing and working for the benefit of science as a whole.

As I was just discussing with your Chairman, I hope that after the Conference he will come to report to me on your discussions. However, I can already tell you that I will be willing to incorporate your recommendations into our programme activities. We are at a good moment, since UNESCO is beginning the implementation of its Medium-Term Strategy for the six-year period 1996-2001. Your meeting is most timely, in that we can, to all possible extent, already try to take account of your recommendations or guidelines in the carrying out of the programmes of the Science and Communication Sectors during the present biennium 1996-1997.

I would like to close by underlining my conviction that, on the eve of a new century when it is more important than ever to correct the enormous asymmetry in the distribution of wealth in the world, and which in itself is a source of insecurity and instability, the more equitable sharing of knowledge is absolutely indispensable, and a key factor in the peace building that is UNESCO's essential mission. I am sure, Mr. Chairman, that the subject you are now going to address will prove one of the fundamental issues to be dealt with at the World Conference on Science that I intend to convene in 1999. I consider now, more than ever before, scientific assessment to be an essential part of decision making. Very often I meet with Heads of State and Prime Ministers who very genuinely express the need to have a closer relationship with the scientific community, because they realize that today decision-making processes are very difficult and sometimes useless if they are not founded on sound, regular scientific advice.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish you a very successful meeting and I repeat that I wait for your recommendations, symbolizing as they do the good relations we enjoy with ICSU, in order that they might be incorporated in our everyday activities.

I thank you all for your attention.

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