Raising the Voice of Science in Africa
Africa gave birth to the human race, and the continent's cultural and ecological diversity is breathtaking. But Africa has enormous needs in areas that require science, engineering, and medical expertise. National academies of science across the continent have worked hard to recognize the contributions and accomplishments of their members. Even so, the groups have little clout in their governments' public-policy debates and have been in existence for only a few decades or less.
The U.S. National Academies, in partnership with the InterAcademy Panel's program on international issues, are working to strengthen the role of science advice in policy-making in Africa. The panel is a worldwide network of 90 academies that counsel public officials and citizens on the scientific aspects of major global issues such as sustainable development and infectious disease.
Representatives from seven African academies visited the U.S. National Academies for nearly two weeks in early April to learn more about their operations and to share personal experiences. The itinerary included meetings with staff executives and senior scientists, plus sessions with various federal officials and leaders of professional societies.
"We need science to develop our continent," said Ousmane Fall, who directs the Academy of Science and Technology of Senegal, at an introductory meeting in Washington, D.C. Other participants -- who represented Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, and the African Academy of Sciences, an umbrella group based in Nairobi -- emphasized how the collaboration would provide valuable advice and give them greater visibility back home.
The visit was orchestrated by several staff members in the National Academies' Office of International Affairs, including executive director John Boright and program officer Clara Cohen. "Such outreach efforts benefit everyone," Boright said. "By working together on important issues identified by our partner countries' governments, we can contribute to their policies and help stimulate the institutional capability of African academies to play active roles in more policy areas."
Additional information about the InterAcademy Panel is available at <national-academies.org/iap>. -- Vanee Vines
Freed Egyptian Sociologist Visits
Scientist and human rights advocate Saad Eddin Ibrahim was the featured speaker at a briefing held by the Committee on Human Rights during this year's annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. Ibrahim was acquitted on March 18, 2003, by Egypt's high court of justice after being tried three times on the same charges and incarcerated repeatedly over the course of nearly three years. Charges against him included receiving foreign funding without permission from authorities, falsifying election documents, and disseminating false information harmful to Egypt. His arrest was widely criticized by the international community as being unjust and politically motivated.
Ibrahim received widespread support throughout his ordeal from human rights and scientific organizations, including the National Academies. In two letters to Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, the presidents of the National Academies said they were deeply distressed by their colleague's situation. "Professor Ibrahim is known to us and many of our members as a man of integrity and scholarly distinction. He has shown commitment to justice, human rights, democratic values, and his native Egypt."
The Committee on Human Rights urges Academies members to appeal for unjustly imprisoned colleagues around the world, and actively campaigned for Ibrahim's release, sent observers to his trial, and issued a report on his case. -- Valerie Chase
Homeland Security Science Chief Sworn In
The Great Hall of the National Academies building was the setting for the swearing-in ceremony of Charles McQueary as the first undersecretary for science and technology at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. DHS Secretary Tom Ridge delivered the oath of office to McQueary, who has a Ph.D. in engineering mechanics and is the retired president of General Dynamics. McQueary said his new job offers him a "great chance to give something back to my country."
The Academies called on Congress to establish McQueary's new post in last year's report Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism, which stated that the position was crucial to keep the new department connected to other research-oriented agencies such as the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health.
McQueary said that getting national and local emergency personnel access to cutting-edge technologies will be among his first priorities. He also added that he would be focusing on how to improve the public's understanding of the risks posed by potential attacks involving biological, chemical, or radiological agents. -- Bill Kearney