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Summer 2004 Vol. 4 No. 2

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Cicerone Nominated for NAS President

Ralph J. Cicerone, photo courtesy University of California, Irvine The Council of the National Academy of Sciences has unanimously approved the nomination of Ralph J. Cicerone, chancellor of the University of California, Irvine, for election as the next president of the Academy.

"I am very pleased that Ralph Cicerone has accepted our Council's nomination," said Bruce Alberts, whose second six-year term as NAS president ends June 30, 2005. "I have known and worked with Ralph for many years. He has been an energetic and thoughtful leader for many of our academy's efforts, as well as for the larger science community."

An atmospheric chemist, Cicerone was elected to the Academy in 1990 and has served on more than 40 committees at the National Academies. In 2001, he chaired the landmark Research Council study Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, conducted at the request of the White House.

A nominating committee of 28 NAS members, chaired by Peter H. Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, selected Cicerone after a six-month search. Under the institution's bylaws, the committee puts forward a single candidate for the approval of the NAS governing council. Although the bylaws permit additional nominations from the membership, this mechanism has never been used. In the absence of another nomination, Cicerone's name will be presented to the full membership on Dec. 15 for formal ratification.
  -- William Skane

Free Information for Developing Nations

Current, reliable scientific information could help make headway against hunger, disease, and other problems besetting developing countries. Recognizing the need for wider access to this knowledge, the National Academies now offer the wealth of information found in their reports to more than 140 developing nations, free of charge.

"Elevating global science and technology capacity is critical," said Bruce Alberts, noting the growing gap between rich and poor countries. "As industrialized nations with financial resources and a trained scientific work force exploit new knowledge and technologies more intensively, developing countries that lag in science and technology capacity fall further and further behind."

Internet users in most developing countries can obtain Academies reports in portable document format (PDF) at <>. In January through May 2004, National Academies Press gave away nearly 40,000 books and 20,000 individual chapters to people in eligible nations. And soon the NAP site will feature "subject portals" to information on drought, water sciences, and other topics relevant to the needs of developing countries.

Articles from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), one of the world's most-cited scientific journals, are available as well. PNAS has offered its content free to scientists and others in more than 140 nations since January 2002. Both NAP and PNAS have designed their systems so that these users can download materials immediately and seamlessly.

Ensuring equitable access to scientific information is one of the priorities outlined by the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues, a worldwide network of 90 science academies of which the U.S. National Academy of Sciences is a part. Goverdhan Mehta, former president of the Indian National Science Academy and co-chair of the InterAcademy Council, considers the National Academies' outreach efforts to be invaluable. "Developing nations in particular cannot afford to be without access to credible, independent scientific and technological information," he said.
  -- Sara Frueh & Vanee Vines

Building the Power of Science in Africa

Vaccination team visiting a Congo village to immunize against polio, photo by Sven Torfinn, courtesy World Health Organization The African continent faces many serious health challenges that are expected to become even more intractable over the next decade. Health problems such as malnutrition and HIV/AIDS aggravate one another, creating a vicious cycle of illness, say international relief organizations. For example, AIDS reduces peoples' ability to work and feed their families, and in turn bodies weakened by hunger become more vulnerable to disease.

Science could help African governments find ways to reverse these trends and save lives, but few nations have effective systems to harness the knowledge of their scientific communities. A new National Academies initiative, funded by a $20 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to change that. The 10-year effort will help African academies of science boost their ability to provide credible, useful advice to their governments -- with the ultimate goal of improving human health. "Every country needs an organized way to call upon its own scientific and medical communities for guidance," said Bruce Alberts.

Over the course of the decade, the National Academies will work closely with three African science academies, training staff members to conduct advisory activities and helping the organizations build effective relationships with their governments. A series of regional symposia will engage all of the continent's science academies in discussions about the best ways to provide advice to policy-makers.

While the National Academies will draw on their own experience to mentor the African academies, the objective is to help each nation develop an advisory framework suited to its particular needs and conditions. Also a priority will be ensuring each new advisory system's staying power; the U.S. and African academies will collaborate to find ways to financially sustain these activities -- and build awareness of the benefits of evidence-based guidance -- long after the project ends.

"We hope that this important initiative will help achieve the goal of better health for all by engaging the African scientific community in critical African policy decisions," said Richard Klausner, executive director of the Gates Foundation's Global Health program.
  -- Sara Frueh

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Copyright 2005 by the National Academy of Sciences