This is the written version of a dinner speech I delivered June 7th in Bern for a meeting of the European networks of Academies, SAPEA, in which EASAC, the European Academies Science Advisory Council, is a member.


For most of my life I thought that the war between reason on one side and credulity on the other, between those following Descartes’ approach and its requirement that the world be approached through experiment and deduction  on the first side  and those following blindly dogmas or the saying of more or less sophisticated gurus on the second side was over. And that it had been won by the proponents of Descartes. I have to admit that this is not so. We see a revival of all sorts of beliefs, some as absurd as the presence of a planet on collision course with the Earth at new year some years ago.

We are certainly not in the advantageous position in which many of us saw ourselves until rather recently.   We have  to  fight  not only some some well defined and limited battles, for example to meet creationism in the deep south of the US, but we have to be present on a broad front extending across all our societies and many of their components.

The  irrational unfounded  beliefs that are found so widely in our societies now make it more dangerous for our children and for us. This is true, for example, in the case of climate the evolution, which is not taken seriously enough in some quarters to undertake the necessary actions to stop emitting green house gases, but also in the case of vaccinations, where ill founded claims are unnecessarily  putting whole populations in danger from infectious diseases.

This state of affairs challenges the world intellectual and academic population. Those of us who measure, observe, investigate, deduce, model, experiment before uttering theories must speak out loudly. We must make the benefits of a rational approach to the world widely known. We must proudly state what we do and what societies have gained and are still gaining from our approach to the world. Our voice is more important now than it has been in many many decades.

Maybe naively, I also thought for a very long time that academic freedom was an evidence that we would not have to fight for. Here also this positive view is being challenged. Political evolution in a number of states like Hungary, Turkey or Romania, but also in parts of the US government, shows that we must also become active again in this domain.

Academies are the prime actors on these fields. Their members are presumably among the best in their domains, for many they are aware of the needs of societies and  are ready to meet these needs. Historically academies have been at the interface between knowledge and societies for centuries.

The roles of academies in the present circumstances include:
-Bringing knowledge in the decision making processes of our societies. This is the essence of EASAC, the European Academies Science Advisory Council, but also of the association of the major academic networks in Europe now called SAPEA, and is an important part of the activities of most national academies.
-The defence of academic freedom in research, teaching and speaking.
-The resistance to states that attempt to silence their academic and intellectual communities.
-The support of academic staff in danger within their systems.
-The improvement of the gradient between the research and teaching levels across the European continent and worldwide, the development of continental and worldwide genuine collaborations.
-A contribution to the elaboration of sound science and education policies.
-The development of a proper partnership between knowledge and industry, in which the legitimate interests of some do not  pollute the position of independence of others.
-The recognition of excellence in research and teaching.

The on-going collaboration between the major networks of academies within Europe, an effort in which our community in its broadest sense is involved, is an excellent opportunity to think beyond the science for policy frame that we now have within SAPEA. We meet regularly and we could use these opportunities to reflect not only on the immediate tasks at hand, but also on all the activities that the academic world needs to undertake in order to fill the moral mandate that we have from society.