ICSU Presidential Nominee Address
Yuan-Tseh Lee

Chairman Goverdhan Mehta, Distinguished Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me begin by briefly introducing myself.  I was born in a small city in the northern part of Taiwan. After completing my early education in Taiwan, I went on to University of California at Berkeley to work for my doctorate. I finished my doctorate in 1965 and then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard before joining the University of Chicago in 1968. I then returned to UC-Berkeley in 1974 as Professor of Chemistry and then as University Professor in 1991.

In 1994, after 32 years in the United States, I returned to my home country to become the President of Taiwan’s academy of sciences, Academia Sinica, the leading research institution on the island. During the period of my presidency of the academy, in addition to raise our academic standing to the world class, I spearheaded Taiwan’s education reform and established several new foundations to help promote higher education and scientific research. I also helped found Taiwan’s International Graduate Program, jointly sponsored by our academy and a number of research universities in Taiwan, to educate young domestic and international scientists.

I am a physical chemist. As some of you may know, in 1986 I was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Prof. Dudley Herschbach and Prof. John C. Polanyi, for our finding in the dynamics of chemical reactions. My work involves the development of the universal crossed molecular beams technique for the observations of chemical reactions under single collision conditions. As a scientist, I also received many honors, in addition to various prizes, medals and awards, I am also a member of 12 Academies and have received 35 honorary degrees by preeminent universities in various countries.

Over the years, I have been very active in the international scientific activities for the advancement of science, scientific collaboration, science education, peace on earth, and sustainable development of human society.

I am standing here in front of you today to seek your support to become the next President of the International Council of Sciences.

The International Council of Sciences was inaugurated nearly 80 years ago with the aim of strengthening international science by promoting international collaboration and the universality of science. I believe that today, more than ever before, this mission is crucial and pertinent to our global society and our earth. This is also a mission that resonates deeply with my personal core beliefs and values, both as a scientist and a human being.

Today, as scientists, we are called upon to confront the challenges caused by global warming and the deterioration of the global environment. We also have to deal with the threat of new and mutated infectious diseases and to foster sustainable economic development.

In striving to tackle these challenges and in looking for solutions, it has become painfully obvious to all of us that none of these problems can be coped with by any individual country or even a handful of countries. Essentially, all of the major challenges facing our society today require worldwide involvement and international cooperation.

We are lucky enough to have here, in the form of the International Council of Sciences, a framework that is already set up to facilitate global cooperation among scientists.  I think it is our duty as scientists and as members of the global society to make good use of this framework. I hope I have a chance to lead this endeavor.

As the former president of my Academy, I had the opportunity to chair the National Committee of ICSU in Taiwan for 12 years. I also took the leadership in Taiwan chapter of TWAS and Inter Academy Panel on International Issues. But, the most rewarding and exciting experience was serving as a member in the Standing Committee on Freedom in the Conduct of Science of ICSU, which later turned into the Standing Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in the Conduct of Science, and participated in the drafting of the important document of “The Universality of Science”.

I strongly believe in the universality of science. As a matter of fact, one of the mandates of the International Council of Sciences is to ensure that scientific knowledge and know-how are not merely the domain of the rich and advanced nations, but are distributed equitably among nations of the world. This is a noble mission and we have to make sure that we put maximum effort into it. I know this mission very well and have helped much over the years to carry out this mission. An example can be seen in the work of the Academy of Sciences located in Taipei. As a result of the collaborative project between the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and our Academy, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation was able to obtain a royalty-free licensing agreement with our Academy to secure proprietary genes that could help produce wilt resistant bananas. Our efforts to provide technological know-how to Uganda for the prevention of banana crop disease are very much in accord with the basic founding spirit of the ICSU.

Now I would like to provide a brief summary of my observations of the ICSU’s projects and current activities.  First, the ICSU has made strenuous efforts to integrate the natural sciences.  However, considerable work remains to be done for the integration of the social sciences and engineering.  The ICSU should collaborate more extensively with its partners to meet the unique challenges of the 21st century.  In addition to cooperation with the UNESCO, cooperation with the WHO and the FAO is also necessary.  Furthermore, the ICSU should seek cooperation with regional offices in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, South America and the Caribbean in order to educate researchers in science and technology.

The planning and coordination of research projects of the ICSU in recent years demonstrate that the ICSU is working consistently for sustainable development, the prevention of diseases and epidemics, and environmental protection.  The projects for urban health and well-being, the prevention of environmental hazards and disasters, as well as the International Polar Year and Global Change Programs have all been launched to reach these goals.  All of these programs are extremely important and we are delighted that the ICSU took up this challenge.

In the upcoming years, the future efforts of the ICSU might focus on following items. The research and development of green and clean energy via cross-national cooperation in technology is of premium importance for realizing sustainable development in future years.  The use of agricultural and genomic technology to ensure the production, preservation, and global distribution of food is also of vital importance.  Spurring closer international cooperation in the prevention of epidemics and infectious diseases as well as international cooperation in the observation of global warming processes and changes in the eco-system are of fundamental importance for the prevention of environmental disasters.  Such goals should also be high on the list of priorities of future work by the ICSU.  Finally, future efforts of the ICSU should focus on using information technology and the internet to facilitate broader international cooperation in science, technology, and higher education.  Internet technology should also be applied more extensively to narrow the digital gap within and among developing countries and on an international scale.

During the 20th century the population of the world increased from 1.5 billion to 6 billion. One of the biggest challenges we now face is the fact that we live in a “limited” world and that human society is living beyond its means. In other words, we have to realize that the world is already “overdeveloped” in terms of the excessive consumption of natural resources and the damage done to our ecosystem and living environment. We must then strive to find solutions to make sure that economic development is not incompatible with a sustainable environment.

It is very important that we work together to re-establish the intimate relationship between humankind and the biosphere. It is also my strong belief that the International Council of Sciences should and will pave the way in this endeavor. In addition to the shortage of energy resources and grave environmental problems which become worse every year, humanity faces a series of other problems.  If in the increasingly interdependent world of today, the majority of humanity still lives in grinding poverty, is disease-stricken, illiterate, deprived of education, unemployed, and faces other problems of basic survival, this world will not be a safe world. ICSU might work harder to resolve the dilemma between global competition and global collaboration.

When I was a child, I was first drawn to a career in science by the example of Madame Curie. When she was asked why she did not apply for patents for her discoveries, a move that would have made her as wealthy as Thomas Edison at the time, she replied that she did not want to take that advantage because scientific knowledge should belong to all mankind.

It was this idealist way of life that attracted me to science when I was young, and it is with this ideal still burning strongly in my heart that I would like to humbly request your support to be given an opportunity to serve you and the community of science as the next President of the International Council of Sciences.

Thank you very much.