This text is a speech I delivered at the occasion of the establishement of the Cyprus Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts in Nicosia, January 15 2018.



Academies have a number of tasks in today’s societies; their importance is now possibly greater than ever. Humankind has gained such an influence on the  planet that some speak of an anthropocene era, one during which human beings have as much importance as geological events, knowledge should then be an essential ingredient to a large fraction of policies worldwide. Furthermore, at a time when a significant fraction of the population not only doubts the virtue of rationality, but can believe almost anything, including that the earth is flat, the presence of a solid body of scientists in all domains, including social, humanities, natural sciences, is a necessary asset for any society.

The tasks of academies include fostering of science, the recognition of the best among us, fostering of collaborations, here within Cyprus, and with the international community and fostering of education and public information.

The Cyprus Academy of Sciences Letters and Arts that is created today has embodied all of these tasks in its statutes. I trust that the new academy will contribute to enlightenment here and in the international community.

Among the activities of academies I would like to underline “science for policy”, the art of bringing knowledge to the decision making processes of our society. This is a major and difficult task of academies, it is also the purpose of EASAC, the European Academies Science Advisory Council, at the level of the Continent. In a world in which human activity modifies the physical, chemical and biological parameters of the planet, this is a major issue for all of us.

Science for policy is a task that was at the origin of a number of academies throughout the centuries, The first statutes of the Swiss academy, 200 years ago for example, already stated that the academy should make science “really useful” for society. That activity lost some of its importance during some decades of the XXth century when science was deemed naturally to be a major actor of the human wellbeing. This is not always seen so now. Large fractions of our populations, and of the political staff that represent all of us, have come to believe a number of statements that are not derived from any observation of nature and also to doubt some very solidly established facts. The fight for rationality that many of us thought behind us is back in the forefront. Academies are called here to act with strength, to establish facts over “alternate facts”, to encourage a rational approach to the world rather than a fantasied one, and to bring knowledge to the attention of those steering our societies.

Through science we, humans, have “mastered” our environment to such an extent that our population has exploded to billions, each of us, or at least many, using much more resources than some time ago. One can illustrate how science shaped our civilisation using astronomy, the science that many of us would think furthest from our daily lives. But astronomy has shaped our vision of the world deeply, not only in ancient times or when Copernic, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Newton and others observed and measured our surroundings and removed the human beings from their position in the middle of the universe, where a God could more or less benevolently take care of them, to establish that they inhabit one among several planets in the suburbs of one among billions of galaxies. This has been an essential element of the way in which we think and act. Astronomy still influences our culture by showing that the universe is populated by objects that shine many times the energy of stars and entire galaxies and vary on all timescales, from a fraction of a second to centuries and more, thus modifying their surroundings on all timescales. Our universe changes all the time, it is not only the sub-lunar world that is prone to evolution. Eternity is not part of the universe we now know.

But this cultural element of science, central as it is to us, is but a part of what astronomy brought to mankind. Astronomers spent much more time tediously measuring time, first around the year then within the days, than devising theories of the world. The first of these efforts efforts made agriculture possible, because seasons must be followed to plant, and the course of the seasons is measured in the sky. Time measurement in recent centuries then allowed us to organise our societies. You cannot make an appointment without mastering time to a precision of minutes or so. And they allowed us to travel beyond known shores.

Similar stories could be told about all sciences. The net result is modern society with its hugely expanded human lifespan and with the level of comfort that many enjoy, but also a planet that is being deeply modified in its chemical, biological and physical parameters.

We must now face some consequences of this success and learn to make the interaction between human beings and the planet harmonious. This requires a solid dialogue between science and society. A dialogue that is difficult.

This is difficult, because the knowledge at play is very large and often complex. To deal with climate issues, for example, we must understand how the solar radiation is absorbed and reemitted with a precision better than 0.5 per thousandth. This represents a colossal effort.

And there are other difficulties in the dialogue science-policy: uncertainties, inherent to all measurements and models, are difficult to communicate. Scientists and politicians live in very different worlds. And finally, the interests, economic or political at stake can be enormous.

These difficulties make it all the more important that the dialogue is solidly established so that scientists understand politicians, their questions and their requirements and so that relevant knowledge can be brought everywhere where it is useful and needed. The academy you are creating today will contribute to this in Cyprus, I trust.

But the interface science-policy cannot exist only at the national level. Neither science nor the consequences of our decisions know national boundaries. There must be an interplay between local, continental and global aspects of this work.


-Local decisions have large scale effects. Burning fossil fuels, be they coal, oil or gas, may be locally beneficial for the economy, but it does increase green house gases for the whole globe.

- In the other direction, global changes have local implications. Water cycles change, sea level rises, weather patterns change. Communities must react.

- The political Europe is a continental authority that requires and receives science advice at its level to optimise its regulations,


Europe is also a representation of nations. Analysis and advice must therefore be coordinated to some extent between the national and European levels to bear fruits: National and European policies must be harmonised, and positions in the commission, parliament and council should be similar to be effective.

-And finally, sensitivities of populations vary greatly between different cultures, also within Europe. The messages, even with an identical substance, must not only be translated, they must also be adapted to be understood and perceived across the continent.

Efforts are also underway for academies to play a role at the global level. This is important, as the Earth is in reality a large spacecraft isolated in space and should be much more considered as such.

For all these reasons, academies must be present on all scenes, locally, nationally, continentally and world wide.

In Europe we are organised so that the action of our academies are discussed. Reports and positions are developed, shared or used on different levels. EASAC is one arena where this discussion takes place.

We have seen in recent months examples that illustrate all of these:

EASAC produced a report on forests, arguing that burning wood is not necessarily a recipe to decrease CO2 in the atmosphere. This report in addition to playing an important role in European policy discussions, is having a huge impact in the Scandinavian states where forestry is a large fraction of the economy.

The Swedish academy pushed EASAC to produce a statement on homeopathic treatments following work they had done. This was done, EASAC issued a statement that urges for homeopathic products to follow the same standards and rules as other medications in terms of proof of efficiency and commercialisation practices. The European report was distributed everywhere with very large differences in the responses. Almost nothing in Switzerland, a negative reaction in France, where large firms make a lot of money on homeopathic products, but in Hungary a university used it to close a programme. The commission answered that they did not intend to change their 20 years old regulations.

The Swiss academy produced a very substancial report translating the global climate change predictions into concrete local consequences.

These are all examples of work intertwined between the levels.

I very much hope that your academy will take an active part on the activities taking place on all these scenes.

You have stated in the rules setting up the academy that the academy must act independently. This is essential to produce credible analysis and reports. And nowadays this independence is anything but trivial.

Independence from commercial and financial interests is possibly relatively easy, if not to achieve, at least to document.

Industrial independence can already be somewhat more difficult to achieve, as some knowledge resides with people who have naturally strong ties to industries.

Independence from the state is more delicate. The states fund academies and many in politics and administration would argue that those who pay may and should direct the work, and that the work should be defined in advance. This is the essence of good modern public management. But it may not be so in academies. In academy work, the state, or whoever funds the work, must be ready to hear and read analyses that may not be in line with their positions. Funding must therefore have few if any strings attached to it. To be able to listen to these dissenting voices is a great strength that is not always perceived as such. It increases the probability that a policy may be fruitful. This is not to say that knowledge is sufficient for good policy, but certainly knowledge, as solid as possible, is a necessary condition for government action.

I never thought that we would need to stress these points vigorously any more. For many decades the value of academic and speech freedom have been taken for granted. It is not so any more. In all parts of the world one sees governments that not only refuse to hear what rational analyses of facts provide, for example in matters of climate, but who also prevent scientific work to be done and even attempt to silence their academic communities.

You stress independence in the work of your academy. It is a very positive point, not only for the academy being created today, but also for the Cypriote society as a whole and it should be a model for the whole region.

You are creating today a tool that will strengthen your society, that will help your scientific community to be better integrated in Europe, and that will also strengthen Europe in its aims to make best use of the intellectual potential of all its populations to strive towards a better future. I would like to congratulate and thank you for this effort and wish the best for the young Cyprus academy of sciences, letters and arts.