International Science Research Paper

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The formal infrastructure to support and promote international collaboration in the social and behavioral sciences consists of several associations based on disciplines or subdisciplines, the International Social Science Council (ISSC), and to a certain extent the International Council for Science which was formerly known as the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). This infrastructure is largely a product of the period since World War II. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) played a major role in encouraging the establishment of the infrastructure and supporting it. Participation in the associations and their activities has broadened and become more global, and activities sponsored by the infrastructure have increased over time. Despite this, at the dawn of the twenty-first century the infrastructure designed to support the social and behavioral sciences remained weaker than that designed primarily to support the natural sciences and there were fewer international collaborative programs.

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1. History

The first steps toward the creation of science organizations and associations for the social and behavioral sciences were taken in the nineteenth century (Baker 1992, Greenaway 1996). These steps included both disciplinary based and broader developments. Geographers held their first international congress in 1871. This eventually led to the formation of the International Geographical Union (IGU) in 1922. The Association for the Reform and Codification of the Law of Nations was founded in 1873. This eventually became the International Law Association. Psychologists held their first international congress in 1889. At their third congress in 1900, they created a continuing committee, the International Congress of Psychology, to organize subsequent congresses.

In 1899 nine national academies formed the International Association of Academies. In 1919 this was transformed into the International Research Council, which in 1931 was succeeded by the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). ICSU was comprised of 40 national members— national academies—and eight scientific unions, one of which was the International Geographical Union (IGU). The IGU was the only social science association among the eight. Because ICSU’s forerunner was an organization of national academies and because it had national academies as members, the ICSU was supported by funds from national governments from the outset.

In addition to the IGU, two other social science associations were established in the inter-war period, the International Union for the Scientific Investigation of Population Problems in 1928 and the Standing International Commission of the International Congresses of the Administrative Sciences in 1930. The former changed its name to the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population in 1961, and the latter became the International Institute of Administrative Science in 1977.

Despite these steps, there was relatively little international collaboration in the social and behavioral sciences prior to World War II compared to the collaboration that occurred in the natural sciences, and while the social and behavioral sciences were firmly established in North America and Western Europe they were weak or nonexistent in most countries in other parts of the world.

UNESCO was created in 1945. Its constitution directed it to support science and international scientific collaboration. The social sciences had a special place in UNESCO (Laves and Thomson 1957, Sewell 1975). UNESCO’s Constitution begins with the assertion ‘… since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.’ There was a strong conviction among many of those who participated in the creation of UNESCO and the development of its early programs that social science could contribute to the promotion of peace, social justice, and human dignity. They believed that the development of social science and international collaboration among social scientists was essential to realize these aims.

They were generally unwilling to recognize that scholars and many government leaders questioned whether the social sciences had, or could, or should have the same universal qualities that the natural sciences had. As the Cold War developed and tensions grew between developed and developing states, many governments and a few scholars sought to enlist UNESCO to support their causes (Dunn 1950). Although these broader conflicts have plagued UNESCO and its own programs, they have largely been avoided in the organization’s efforts to promote and support international science organizations and associations.

In the early years after World War II, UNESCO promoted the formation of international disciplinary associations. With UNESCO’s encouragement the World Association of Public Opinion Research was created in 1947; the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnographical Sciences, and the World Federation of Mental Health in 1948; the International Economic Association, the International Political Science Association, and the International Sociological Association in 1949; the International Committee of Comparative Law in 1950, which became the International Association of Legal Science in 1955; and the International Union of Psychological Sciences in 1951. UNESCO provided subventions to the newly established associations.

At the same time that it encouraged the formation of disciplinary associations UNESCO sought to establish a facility that would promote social sciences generally and collaboration among them. UNESCO convened two consultative meetings in 1951 to recommend a course of action. The second consultative meeting in December 1951 unanimously recommended that an International Social Science Council should be created, a recommendation that UNESCO’s General Conference endorsed in a resolution. The ISSC was established the following year at an UNESCO sponsored meeting.

ISSC was created as a confederation of five disciplinary based international associations. When the constitution was revised in 1972 it became a federation. By the 1990s the number or member associations had settled at 14. Beyond the 12 associations mentioned above these included the International Peace Research Association, which was founded in 1964, and the International Federation of Social Science Organizations, which was founded in 1979.

ISSC also included 15 associate members. Among them are such bodies as: l’Association Internationale des Sociologues de Langue Francaise; the International Association for Applied Psychology; the International Association of Economic History; the International Committee for Social Science Information and Documentation; the International Federation of Data Organizations; the International Society of Criminology; the International Studies Association; and the World Future Studies Federation.

Unlike ICSU, ISSC did not include national or regional members until its constitution was amended in 1992. Despite this constitutional change, national academies have not rushed to join ISSC. As of 1999 there were only eight national and three regional members, and none of these was from Japan, North America, or Western Europe, the affluent areas of the world most able to support scientific collaboration. In contrast, eight of the nine academies that founded the International Association of Academies, the forerunner of ICSU, were from Western Europe and the ninth was the United States National Academy of Sciences. In 1999 ICSU had 98 national members from 96 countries.

The founders of ISSC feared that including national members might subject the council to ideological and political pressures, and when the possibility of having national members was raised again in the 1970s this fear was even more pronounced (Baker 1992). In addition, the place of social and behavioral sciences in national structures varies substantially. Which if any national body, would be an appropriate national member, was not as clear as it was with respect to the natural sciences. Not having national members has been one of the factors why ISSC has not had the same access to funds from national governments that ICSU has had. UNESCO’s subvention has always been ISSC’s predominant source of funds.

2. Activities And Accomplishments

As the twenty-first century opened, most of the formal infrastructure to support international collaboration in the social and behavioral sciences had been in place for half a century or longer. Many things happened during this period (see IPSA 1999).

The disciplinary associations grew. They were comprised of both collective members—national associations—and individual members. They were founded by as few as a handful of national associations. By 1999 most of the 14 member associations of ISSC had from 40 to 60 collective members. This growth represented a considerable increase in social scientists in areas other than North America and Western Europe. In addition, the largest associations had from 1,000 to 2,000 individual members from about 100 states. While national associations from North America and Western Europe accounted for only about 40 percent of the collective members they accounted for from two-thirds to three-quarters of the individual members.

When ISSC was founded, UNESCO gave ISSC funds for its own operation and to disperse to the disciplinary associations. These funds were dispersed as block grants. This system continued until 1996. Since 1996 UNESCO continued to provide funds for ISSC and the disciplinary associations, but the funds were provided for projects only. Beyond providing a subvention, since ISSC’s creation UNESCO has given it contracts to execute projects and office space in UNESCO House. ISSC has never had any other space.

Following the tradition set by the geographers, international legal specialists, and psychologists in the nineteenth century, the disciplinary associations have organized congresses. The frequency of the congresses varies from once a year to once every three or four years. Participation in congresses has grown to 1,500 or more. The disciplinary associations also convene smaller meetings, and sponsor roundtables, study groups, and research committees. They publish abstracts, journals, and newsletters and sponsor book series. By the end of the twentieth century, the disciplinary associations had come to manage substantial scientific exchanges.

ISSC’s activities have been constrained by its limited funds. In its early years, ISSC focused on providing services for its member associations and for UNESCO. Most of ISSC’s early projects and publications derived from UNESCO contracts. Both UNESCO and ISSC proposed topics for the projects. There always has been a close connection between UNESCO’s social science program and ISSC’s activities.

In the 1980s ISSC took steps that led to the creation of two broad international interdisciplinary research programs, the International Human Dimensions Program (IHDP) on Global Environmental Change and the Comparative Research Program on Poverty. Sponsoring large-scale research programs was a new venture for ISSC. These programs required raising additional funds granted specifically to support them. Social scientists and social science associations also have connections with ICSU. Three social science associations are among its 25 scientific union members. The IGU was a founding member. The International Union of Psychological Science became a member in 1982, and the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences was admitted in 1993.

ICSU was established before UNESCO was. Although UNESCO’s financial assistance was crucial in creating ICSU’s first professional secretariat, and ICSU has regularly received funds from UNESCO, UNESCO has not been the predominant source of ICSU’s funds. The ICSU secretariat has been located in Paris since 1972, but it has had its own building.

One of ICSU’s first activities was to sponsor a large-scale international collaborative research program, the Second International Polar Year in 1932–3. Starting with the International Geophysical Year in 1957, ICSU has sponsored many international collaborative research programs in the period since World War II. The largest of these in 2000 was the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program, A Study of Global Change, which began in 1986. Other programs that ICSU co-sponsors include The World Climate Research Program, the IHDP (with ISSC), and the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment.

ICSU could build on earlier practice. The first International Polar Year was held in 1982–3. There is great pressure for international collaboration in the natural sciences. Natural science frequently requires data from all over the world, and these data must be collected according to common protocols and measured according to identical scales. There is a deep tradition of unfettered exchange of knowledge in the natural sciences.

The three social science associations that are members of ICSU have participated actively in ICSU’s international collaborative research programs. There have been discussions about additional international social science associations becoming members of ICSU and about closer collaboration between ISSC and ICSU. In a step toward greater collaboration, in 1996 ICSU became a co-sponsor with ISSC of the IHDP. A merger of ISSC and ICSU would be difficult. Not all of the 11 ISSC member associations that are not members of ICSU would fit easily into ICSU.

As a consequence of the relative weakness of the formal infrastructure to support and promote international collaboration in the social and behavioral sciences, many collaborative efforts for training, data collection and archiving, and research have been conducted under the auspices of regional and national organizations such as the European Science Foundation, the Research Directorate-General of the European Commission, the Latin American Social Sciences Council, the US National Academy of Sciences, and the Social Science Research Council or under ad hoc arrangements.

Interestingly most US professional associations in the social sciences have many members who are not citizens or residents of the USA. For instance, in 1999 such individuals comprised 35 percent of the membership of the American Society of International Law.

How the infrastructure for supporting international collaboration in the social sciences would evolve was an open question. The infrastructure was created and utilized to promote the development of the social sciences in what frequently was a top-down process. Development of a more robust infrastructure would probably require bottom-up pressures from both the social and natural science communities and government support.


  1. Baker F W G 1992 Forty Years History of the International Social Science Council: The Evolution of the Social Sciences. ISSC, Paris
  2. Dunn F S 1950 War and the Minds of Men. Harper, New York
  3. Greenaway F 1996 Science International: A History of the International Council of Scientific Unions. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK
  4. IPSA (International Political Science Association) 1999 Fifty Years of IPSA. Participation 23:1, 4–13; 23:2, 6–13; 23:3, 4–12
  5. Laves W H C, Thomson C A 1957 UNESCO: Purpose, Progress, Prospects. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN
  6. Sewell J P 1975 UNESCO and World Politics: Engaging in International Relations. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
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