Stakeholder’s voices #5: A conversation with the co-chairs of the InterAcademy Partnership: Peggy Hamburg and Krishan Lal

For our fifth stakeholder voice, we spoke to Peggy Hamburg and Krishan Lal from our associated partner the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP). The IAP is a global network of the world’s academies of science, medicine and engineering. It was formally established in Hermanus, South Africa, in March 2016. Under one umbrella it brings together the global network of science academies (now IAP-Science), the InterAcademy Council (IAC, now IAP-Policy) and the InterAcademy Medical Panel (IAMP, now IAP-Health). The IAP gives voice to 140 national, regional and global academies, and also works through four regional networks – in Europe, Africa, the Asia/Pacific, and the Americas. The IAP is strongly committed to harness its capabilities to address global challenges. At the time of publication of this interview, the IAP just released a Green Recovery communiqué urging world leaders to focus on “multiple win” policies and science-based solutions.

We meet the two co-chairs who are intimately familiar with the topic of science diplomacy, in particular from the point of view of global scientific cooperation between academies of sciences and medicine: Peggy Hamburg from the United States of America and Krishan Lal from India, both eminent global stakeholders. Peggy Hamburg is also a Fellow and former President and Board-Chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), another of S4D4C associated partners.

In this fifth stakeholder’s voice, Peggy and Krishan tell us about their personal backgrounds, the work that IAP has contributed to the field of science diplomacy, the mechanisms of global scientific cooperation and share possible scenarios for global scientific exchange in the future, acknowledging the COVID-19 pandemic as a “game-changer”.


Peggy and Krishan – could you please introduce yourself including your professional background and your current work as co-chairs at the InterAcademy Partnership?

Peggy: I am a physician-scientist, trained in internal medicine, though most of my career has been spent in public service, working in a range of government leadership positions. Early on, I served as the Assistant Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, and went on from there to serve as the Commissioner of Health for New York City. President Clinton then appointed me to serve as Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health and Human Services. Later, after helping to found a new foundation focused on reducing the threat of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons/terrorism, including both natural and deliberate biological threats, President Obama appointed me to serve as the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I became Foreign Secretary for the National Academy of Medicine when I left my post at FDA, and through that role became involved with the work of the IAP. As co-chair of IAP Health and now on the Steering Committee of the IAP overall, I have had a wonderful opportunity to work with Academies of Science and Medicine around the world to help support important issues in science policy and to bring both scientific evidence and expertise to bear on some of the most pressing concerns of our times.

Krishan: This is Krishan Lal, I am co-Chair of IAP for Science since 2016. I have also served as President of “AASSA”, the Association of Academies and Societies of Sciences in Asia where I coordinated the regional-to-global project on Food and Nutrition Security and Agriculture. Furthermore, I was president of ICSU-CODATA and of the Indian National Science Academy where I helped in strengthening cooperation among South Asian Academies. Presently, I am also a Member of the Steering Committee of the World Science Forum. I am a Former Director of the CSIR-National Physical Laboratory in New Delhi and now a Scientist of Eminence there and have been a Foreign Fellow and Visiting Professor at several international Universities, research centers and academies of sciences, such as the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) which awarded me also a Honorary Doctorate. Starting with my first visit as IBM India Fellow, I also enjoyed a long-term collaboration with the IBM Watson Research Centre and with the Naval Research Laboratory of the University of Virginia as well as the National Institute of Standards and Technology in USA. My research also brought me to Japan and Germany.

Would you consider yourself a “science diplomat”?

Peggy: Yes, and proudly so! Throughout my career, I have tried hard to bring international perspectives to my work, with an emphasis on collaboration and international engagement. I have been able to witness firsthand, the value of constructive international collaborations, enabling the development and implementation of stronger, more effective programs to address critical needs and challenges, as well as to strengthen the relationships between countries, even when the geopolitics of those nations may otherwise put them at odds. This has special value when addressing problems that clearly are not defined by borders, including pandemic preparedness, global AIDS programs, immunization programs, weather and earthquake prediction and modelling, and of course, environmental degradation and climate change.

Krishan: Yes, I have continuously collaborated with institutes in US, Europe, Russia and Japan. Also, ran several collaborative activities. As President of ICSU-CODATA, we stressed the importance of data and its availability for growth of science as well as its applications in different sphere. I was very actively involved in the organisation of the Tunis UN World Summit on Information Society as Vice President at that time. I have been pursuing several R&D projects with different countries. As President of INSA, we had hosted a G-Science meeting at New Delhi, and two signed statements were issued.

What is your shortest possible definition of science diplomacy?

Peggy: “Bridging the world through science”. To expand just a bit, using science and scientific collaborations among nations to address common problems and to build constructive partnerships that will also help to create new connections, trust and confidence across countries or regions who may otherwise have conflict, mistrust or political / cultural differences. In doing so, science and health can be advanced as we also advance cooperation, stability and security.

Krishan: To use S&T to strengthen collaboration among scientists and institutions in different countries and disciplines.

The IAP is a global network of national academies providing a collaboration platform for over 30,000 leading scientists, engineers and health professionals in over 100 countries. Is it possible to define the core values shared within this large community and the working mission of IAP?

Peggy: Broadly speaking, the working mission of IAP is to bring together a distinguished set of merit-based science, engineering and medicine academies to help ensure that science serves society inclusively and equitably, developing and driving forward needed solutions to major problems, supporting global sustainable development goals, and advising the public and policy makers on the scientific aspects of critical global issues. The values and activities of IAP span a wide array of disciplines and domains of work. IAP is committed to the advancement of science, including advocacy for the funding of science, the integrity of scientific research, efforts to enhance science education and literacy, and programs to strengthen academies and their impact through capacity building and empowerment at both the national and regional network levels. The organization seeks to provide science based policy and advice and is committed to ensuring that advances in science and technology are harnessed for the public good.

Krishan: IAP makes multifaceted efforts to work on major issues facing humanity and issues statements and communiques, which analyse the problems and propose possible solutions. It also emphasizes on techniques to continuously improve science education by including all aspects of evidence-based learning. IAP places a lot of stress on Science Communication. Its technical and financial support to all the four regional networks in Africa, Americas, Asia and Europe helps in strengthening the S&T base in its multi-dimensions.

How is the IAP approaching science diplomacy? Which types of activities are implemented in that regard?

Peggy: IAP works hard to be part of efforts to both advance the enterprise of science diplomacy as well as training for those who wish to work explicitly in this domain of activity. IAP is actively engaged in a number of programs, and always seeks to make its scientific experts and network available to support these efforts.

Krishan IAP has also been inviting international experts in science diplomacy during its triennial International Conferences, where Sessions on Science Advise are sometimes organised. I have also the privilege of being a member of the Steering Committee of the World Science Forum, with which IAP collaborates regularly.

As you mention to strengthen academies in providing advice for evidence-based policy, how does IAP ensure its results are widely diffused among policy-makers?

Peggy: IAP recognizes that to be effective in providing evidence-based policy advice, the organization must be able to proactively disseminate its work and must be both engaged and responsive to an array of stakeholders, including leadership in international organizations and at the national level. In addition, IAP must work closely with the media, other scientific organizations, the academic and business sectors, civil society organizations and the public.

Krishan: Some of the studies/projects undertaken by IAP have led to good impact worldwide. Under the recent major IAP project, ‘Food and Nutrition Security and Agriculture’, four regional reports covering Africa, Americas, Asia and Europe and a Global report have been widely circulated and reviewed. Policy makers in most of the countries have been made aware of the main findings and recommendations. Similarly, the statements and communiques on different issues are duly communicated to policy makers.

Are there any current topical activities in respect to science diplomacy IAP is implementing?

Krishan: IAP has initiated the following three important new projects: firstly, Academy Response to COVID-19; secondly, combatting Predatory Academic Journals and Conferences; and thirdly, Climate Change and Health. There will be science diplomacy aspects in these projects, which are also of considerable interest to policy makers as well as to funding agencies.

Peggy: Indeed, IAP has just launched a new project on climate change and health which I think holds great promise, as we seek to address one of the most urgent and global problems we face. Focusing on a key impact of climate change that matters to all individuals, communities and nations—HEALTH—we can help to enhance understanding, advocacy and action to tackle the broader issue of climate change. We can bring scientific evidence and recommend evidence-based strategies to make a difference, through galvanization of the scientific community and engagement of the public and policymakers around the world.

How has COVID-19 shaped your thinking about science diplomacy?

Peggy: COVID-19 has reinforced my appreciation of the role of science diplomacy, both during the crisis, but importantly in its aftermath as we seek to gather the lessons learned and commit to developing improved systems for global health security going forward. Without a doubt, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis serves as a powerful reminder of the interdependency of nations all around the globe. Today, we must appreciate the need to work together to ensure that every nation has the capacity to prevent or detect an emerging disease outbreak, and is committed to being part of a global network to report and respond quickly and appropriately to such a threat. We need collaboration across borders and across sectors to enable rapid mobilization of a coordinated, data-driven response, based on the open and complete sharing of information and the mobilization of the best scientific capabilities wherever they can be found. We must work together to ensure equitable access to desperately needed goods, including medical products like personal protective gear and medical countermeasures, as well as other essential goods like food, water and certain kinds of equipment and services.

Krishan: COVID-19 is a major challenge for the entire world. It has put focus on need for major infrastructure and knowledge to understand the molecular structure in detail and the interaction of the virus with human organs. The complexity of processes involved need multidisciplinary expertise spanning over all branches of S&T. It also needs a lot of input from social sciences. The new project of IAP on this issue is expected to help in dealing with this major challenge. The partnership between S&T community, industry and government will bring good results and S4D4C can play an important role in this respect.

Peggy: I believe that we have a rare moment to really build on the current appreciation of the devastation wrought by gaps in preparedness and failure of coordinated response. Few can doubt the importance of harnessing science and scientific collaboration to strengthen preparedness and to develop a better more effective set of medical/public health tools for prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. Moreover, the COVID-19 crisis has also demonstrated the need for clear and consistent collaboration among nations on every level with respect to communication, technical and financial support, policy commitments and shared action.

Krishan: Recently, IAP had condemned the United States’ decision to halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), since any disruption in the WHO’s operating budget is expected to threaten its ability to perform critical role of coordinating the international medical and scientific response to the virus. IAP President, Prof. Volker ter Meulen, had stated, “We hope that the US will reverse this decision immediately. This is not the time to undermine our global coordination structures, which could result in additional lost lives.” and the IAP reiterates its call for international cooperation and collaboration in the fight against COVID-19.

Led by the ISC-group and joined by IAP an Open Letter was addressed to the UN calling for health equity during the pandemic. Many other organisations, including most IANAS academies, had also joined. Various calls and discussions have been held with WHO, since the initial conversation on 13 May 2020. The main outcome of that call was to establish a task force with members from both sides (but initially not IAP) to develop a common path forward. More recently, IAP has worked with the UK AMS on a joint publication.

IAP also participated in a Call with UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed during which it was confirmed that the UN was working hard on the issue of equity and welcomed the open letter received from our consortium. She said that UN country teams were starting to look at the issue, as well as at the regional level, via UNECA. She highlighted the WHO ACT Accelerator as well as the new WHO Foundation established to support critical global health needs. This is science diplomacy in action.

What are some areas where you think science diplomacy can play a special role?

Peggy: We are living in a time when some of the biggest challenges we face are global in nature and will require global solutions, yet many nations have been increasingly looking inward and are pursuing more nationalistic policies and programs. Science diplomacy can be a vital tool in advancing both dialogue and action that transcends boundaries, even despite these challenges. In my view, some key areas of focus should include:

  • pandemic preparedness so we can be better coordinated to rapidly detect and respond to emerging outbreaks wherever they may occur;
  • working to solve the problem of antimicrobial resistance;
  • understanding the interplay of migration, health and climate change;
  • building international, multi-sectoral collaborations to advance scientific innovations for economic development and prosperity, biomedical product innovation could be one promising arena whose value has been underscored by the current COVID-19 crisis; and
  • protecting our shared resource of the ocean.

Krishan: I would like mention the following issues and problems which require joint efforts of IAP and S4D4C in specific regions:

At present, IAP faces several challenges related to increase in its membership, particularly in the scientifically and economically emerging regions like Africa and the Middle East. The Network of African Science Academies (NASAC) is helping in strengthening S&T and in establishing new Academies and requests of some of the African academies seeking IAP membership are in the pipeline. However, serious challenge exists in the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula, where not a single science academy exists in the countries of the Central Asian region, the standard of S&T is quite good and several national academies of science are active there. However, they are generally not participating in the activities of IAP. There are several issues, language being among the most important one. However, systematic and in-depth studies based on contemporary knowledge of S&T are required to tackle problems faced by these regions.

As another example, it is well known that the Aral Sea is shrinking fast. It is affecting the economy and life style of people of the countries surrounding it. There is considerable loss of rich agriculture base and the related economic activities. Also, there is serious negative impact on the availability of drinking water. Such issues require serious efforts particularly by using science diplomacy.

How do you generate cooperation among science academies of countries, which have political problems among them?

Krishan: Often, different political systems and or strained political relationship between the neighbouring countries negatively impact possible collaboration in S&T between such countries. However, if the academies can smartly prepare themselves it is possible to overcome some of the limitations. For example, in the past summits of South Asian Academies of Sciences had been organised by the Indian National Science Academy. Representatives of academies from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Nepal, and Pakistan could deliberate on issues of common interest and issued joint signed statements. The Afghanistan Academy of Sciences had been particularly welcomed as it was the first regional meeting it attended after a long gap. For the Indian media, this was a great event. A panel discussion session was telecast in Delhi and was repeated many times. The summits were held consequently for three years. This was just an example. In general, I would like to highlight the role of science diplomacy to ensure that decision-makers keep a wider perspective in view to ensure rigorous evidence-based policy decisions. In general, common people have full faith in the results of scientific pursuits and the conclusions drawn after sustained research. It is expected that decision-makers will keep in view conclusions drawn after rigorous research and analysis. However, unfortunately, there are ‘fake’ news or conclusions drawn on the basis of unsubstantiated claims. Such practices are lowering the faith of people and even some of the relevant authorities. The decision-makers for public good need to be very cautious and make only ‘evidence-informed’ policy decisions.

The IAP is also an associate partner of S4D4C. How, do you think, did this cooperation evolve so far?

Peggy: The partnership between IAP and S4D4C holds great value. The alignment of perspectives and expertise within these two organisations can synergize in important ways. It is my hope that the collaboration will continue to grow and strengthen as we work together to address vital issues in our complex and rapidly changing world. The role of science and science diplomacy has never been more important!

Krishan: I think the partnership between IAP and S4D4C has been very successful. Activities of S4D4C are complementary to those of IAP. Our activities are dependent on external funding for major projects. S4D4C has an important role to sensitise the funding agencies about in-depth studies on emerging issues facing society. S4D4C is able to link with the community in general in conveying the essence of the major issues and challenges at any time. This helps in preparing the atmosphere for support of projects with S&T as major component.

For the website-category “stakeholder’s voices”, S4D4C invites selected experts in the field of science diplomacy and foreign policy to share their insights and knowledge with our readers. The interviews published here resemble the “researcher’s voices” where we feature S4D4C team-members and their views on science diplomacy and the project. With the “stakeholder’s voices” we also show the views of experts who are not directly involved in the project.

  • 1st stakeholder’s voice, June 2019: Jan-Marco Müller from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. You can find it HERE.
  • 2nd stakeholder’s voice, March 2020: Julia MacKenzie, Center for Science Diplomacy at AAAS. You can read it HERE.
  • 3rd stakeholder’s voice, April 2020: Chagun Basha, DST – Centre for Policy Research at Indian Institute for Science. You can read it HERE.
  • 4th stakeholder’s voice, June 2020: Alexander Sokolov, Moscow Higher School of Economics. You can read it HERE.
S4D4C Team

Posted by S4D4C Team