Back to top
Interview With: Dr. Tom Malone, former President of Sigma Xi, University Distinguished Scholar at North Carolina State University, and former Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Sciences.
SX: In which fields of science or engineering were you trained?
TM: Physics and mathematics - on the recommendations of Harley Johnson, head of the local weather bureau in Rapid City, South Dakota. I had consulted with him about a career in meteorology. He said that a good background in these subjects was essential to successful meteorological career.
My boyhood experience in South Dakota during the 1930s when droughts and dust storms profoundly influenced our lives had stimulated my interest in weather and climate. In those days when radios were rare, my father used a barometer and an insightful "weather eye" to anticipate changes in the weather that would affect his herd of cattle. "Doing something about weather" appealed to me as a challenging career and an opportunity to contribute to society.
An article about meteorology in the Literary Digest (that I read regularly as a high-school debater in the 1930s) prompted me to write a letter to D. M. Little, an official in the U. S. Weather Bureau in Washington, DC. He, in turn, communicated with Mr. Johnson who needed an "emergency assistant" in his weather bureau office in Rapid City. That exchange led to summer work in Johnson's office that put me through college where I focused on mathematics and physics in preparation for a graduate fellowship in meteorology at MIT.
SX: When and how did you become interested in the international arena?
TM: Reared on a ranch in western South Dakota in the l920s, with no radio or TV, I spent most of my leisure time reading books. The book Ivanhoe introduced me to a world outside of South Dakota and beyond the United States. History books that dealt with world affairs were my favorites. This early interest in the international arena was deepened as I came to understand subsequently that the weather and climate in any part of the United States are inextricably interrelated to atmospheric conditions in other parts of the world.
SX: In which international science organizations have you been active?
TM: The International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU),Vice President (1970-76) and then Treasurer (1978-82), founding Secretary General of its Committee on Atmospheric Sciences (1963-68), Chair of ICSU's Standing Finance Committee, and founding Secretary General of its Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment [SCOPE] 1970-76).
The International Union of Geophysics and Geodesy (IIUGG) where, as President of the American Geophysical Union (1962-64), I represented the National Academy of Sciences on IUGG's Council; I chaired the Host Committee for IUGG's General Assembly in Berkeley, CA in 1963.
UNESCO (Chair of U. S. National Committee (1965-67), and member of U. S. Delegation to the observance of UNESCO's 20th anniversary (1966); member ICSU-UNESCO Coordinating Committee (1970s).
SX: Please give us a brief synopsis of your Western Hemisphere Knowledge Partnerships (WHKP) project.
TM: I proposed the Western Hemisphere Knowledge Partnership as a regional model to demonstrate to the world the potential contribution of "partnerships" in The Knowledge Age to make the transition from an environmentally unsustainable, economically inequitable, and socially unstable society into one that is sustainable, equitable, and stable.
The overarching challenge of the 21st Century is to reconcile an exponentially
expanding human system on planet Earth with the finite natural system of renewable resources that support the human system. The explosion under way in human knowledge, and the revolutionary technologies now available for distributing that knowledge, provide powerful tools for achieving that reconciliation. Novel knowledge partnerships of all disciplines (natural, social, health, and engineering sciences, and the humanities) and societal institutions (academia, business & industry, governments, and nongovernmental organizations) must be forged to pursue the societal vision now within reach in The Knowledge Age -- and, then, to fashion a knowledge-based strategy for success in the pursuit of that vision.
The vision is a global society in which all of the basic human needs and an equitable share of human wants can be met while maintaining a healthy, physically attractive, and biologically productive environment. The strategy for its pursuit will be knowledge based, human centered, innovation rich, and guided by knowledge partnerships that embrace the ethical principles outlined in the Earth Charter now supported by 100 million individuals in 8,000 nongovernmental organizations worldwide.
SX: How has international science policy changed since the time when you were Foreign Secretary for the U.S. National Academy of Sciences?
TM: International science policy has undergone dramatic change in the twenty years since I was Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Science (1978-82). Two decades ago, emphasis was directed primarily to the development of disciplines. Seminal advances are now well under way in the biological sciences. Advances in space technology have brought the outermost reaches of the universe under scientific scrutiny at a time when advances in the physical sciences are opening new vistas in nanotechnology that permit the study of minute particles and the fabrication of incredibly small machines. Computers and communications technologies have revolutionized the use and distribution of knowledge.
An overriding objective of international science policy two decades ago was to save civilization from the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) of a nuclear war between the USA and the USSR. Through the world scientific community in the form of the ICSU we brought together scientists from the two protagonists and from the world-at-large to produced a two-volume study Environmental Consequences of Nuclear War (published by Wiley) that triggered an analogous UN Study in which USA and USSR scientists collaborated. These documents contributed to containment of the global threat of a nuclear war.
Today, international science policy continues to be concerned with threats to civilization from (a) the possibility that the human system will overshoot the capacity of global ecosystems to support human activity, and (b) the weapons of mass destruction that swiftly advancing science and technology have placed in human hands. An appropriate response by science polity is to mobilize the totality of human knowledge and make knowledge, broadly construed, an organizing principle for our global society. The limitations of military might to preserve civilization became evident in the terrorist attack in September 2001. The limitations of economic power to perform this function were dramatically revealed by recent corruption scandals.
Civilization is at the "critical moment" identified in the Preamble of the Earth Charter and the "choice is ours" as that Preamble maintains. The world has the knowledge and the framework of ethical principles in the Earth Charter to achieve a just, sustainable, and peaceful society. Achievement of this goal will require a change of mind and heart.
International science policy is challenged to addresses the discovery, unification, dissemination, and wise application of the totality of human knowledge can the be catalyst for this change of mind and heart.
SX: What do you think the most significant international science policy developments have been in your lifetime?
TM: Taken together, the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment, the UN 1992
Earth Summit, and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development have provided a signal that the focus of science policy in the 21st century must be on reconciling an exponentially expanding human system on planet Earth with the finite renewable resources that support the human system. An agenda to achieve this reconciliation includes: universal education, stabilizing world population, developing environmentally benign sources of energy to power economic development, illuminating the resilience of global ecosystems, and pursuing eco-efficiency in the production and consumption of goods and services (go to www.sustainabilityscience.org and click on Malone and Yohe).
SX: What challenges do you see as crucial to the vitality of scientific research around the world?
TM: The vitality of scientific research around the world will be fostered by recognizing that knowledge, broadly construed, is becoming the organizing principle for making the global transition from an environmentally unsustainable, economically inequitable, and socially unstable global society into one that is sustainable, equitable, and stable. In this context, scientific research is not a culture apart from society, but is and integral part of society.
SX: What types of things do you think the average researcher in any country could do to improve the health of the global research enterprise?
TM: Accept as personal guidance E. O. Wilson's thought that integrated knowledge thoughtfully embedded in an ethical framework and shared universally provides the basis for wise choices leading to a prosperous and equitable global society.
SX: What advice would you give to the U.S. science advisors to UNESCO?
TM: 1. Focus on a vision and a strategy for global society. 2. Forge dynamic and creative knowledge partnerships with academia, business & industry, national governments, and nongovernmental organizations, to discover, unify, disseminate, and apply knowledge concerning matter, living organisms, energy, information, and human behavior and the interaction among these six topics. 3. Provide global leadership in universal education within those partnerships.
Back to top
Did You Know?
The Association of Commonwealth Universities has recently created the Retired Academics Database to help address the need for developing country universities to temporarily fill academic positions until they can find permanent replacements.
If you would like to work on research and development challenges with the potential to receive financial rewards for your solutions, explore the InnoCentive Challenges posted on www.innocentive.com. Challenges in Biology and Chemistry are currently listed with rewards of up to US$100,000.
In an effort to promote and encourage more informed and consistent reporting and analysis of Information and Communication Technologies, the African Information Society Initiative (AISI) has launched a Media Awards program. The application deadline is February 28, 2003.
For more information on any of the programs mentioned in this newsletter, please contact:
Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society
P. O. Box 13975, 3106 East NC Highway 54
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709 USA
Telephone: 919-549-4691 or 919-547-5246