Ismail Serageldin


16th Annual TWAS Conference Concluding Statement

 03/12/2005 | 16th Annual TWAS Conference, Alexandria, Egypt


Ladies, and gentlemen,


On behalf of myself and my colleagues at the BA we want to thank TWAS for having given us the possibility of welcoming you all on our premises, and to have shared these wonderful hours of thoughtful discussion and friendly camaraderie.

By your presence you have given substance to the concept of the Library of Alexandria. You collectively exemplify the values of science.  These values are based in a commitment to free enquiry, free expression and the pursuit of truth, while honoring the contributions of others, maintaining openness to the contrarian view and adopting a method of arbitrating disputes with civility and candor.  The scientific method makes no distinctions by age, sex, race or creed.  It promotes cooperation and teamwork.  As Claude Bernard (1813-1878), the great French physiologist, observed, “Art is I; Science is We.”  These values have much to offer our societies.  The scientific enterprise is an invitation to liberate our minds to roam, as it opens new vistas in a journey of exploration and discovery where the fertility of the questions is as important as the finality of the answers.

This is very much the message of the new Library of Alexandria.   For if the BA stands for something, it is rationality, openness, dialogue, learning and understanding.

The message of the BA is enhanced a hundredfold by your presence.  We have been reinforced in our fight against obscurantism, fanaticism and xenophobia.  We have been inspired by your presentations, enthralled by your science, engaged by your vision…  We in the BA and we in the TWAS have been reinforced in our convictions that promoting science is THE way to advance our societies, and that it is our responsibility to advance these goals…

Today, I am proud that TWAS, once more, has drawn strength from past achievements and assessed the challenges ahead, and that we have taken a commitment to act on the issues we raised:

  • the importance of nurturing youth  for they are the future
  • to ensure the greater participation of women, for we cannot let insidious indifference continue its corrosive spread in our midst.. In many of our societies, the status of women is an urgent matter… surely if scientists can help a man walk on the moon, they can help women rise from their knees.. to stand proud and equal to men in every way… nothing less will do.
  • We have recognized that the social sciences are an important complement to the natural sciences in how we understand, diagnose and propose interventions affecting the relationship between humans and between humans and the environment.
  • We have emphasized that the poor and the lagging should receive special attention.
  • We have reaffirmed our commitment in the cooperation between scientists and between the nations of the developing world and their institutions of excellence.
  • We have cast a sharp eye on the ICT revolution and have tasked TWAS and the Bibliotheca Alexnadrina to articulate a strategy for the developing world by the end of 2006.
  • We reaffirmed our dedication to excellence in all we do.

But more…
We made specific promises to move from rhetoric to action and took a vow to meet again in Brazil next year, having achieved some movement on each of these ambitious goals.

We shall do so, and we shall prove that as Bronowski said, we scientists are the “visionaries of action”.

We shall redouble our efforts to achieve our vision of what we want our societies to be ..

A vision best captured by this quote from GITANJALI by Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led by thee into ever-widening thought and action ---
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.

Ah yes, if only we could just awake into this state..

Yet it is still far from the reality of our countries…
We in the developing countries have suffered colonialism, slavery, oppression, discrimination..
And we have to compete on an unequal terrain where the cards are stacked and the dice are loaded against those operating from the developing countries

In many instances, we have suffered from the incompetence and corruption of many of our rulers
From the prejudices of the many in our own midst..
We have had to cope with the nay-sayers, with the doubters, and even worse with the fanatics and the xenophobes, and all those who would limit the exploration of the mind due to bigotry or fear.

Let us hold up mirrors for our societies to see themselves, and windows through which they can see the world. Let us accept that the promotion of the scientific outlook is necessary and unavoidable for the pursuit of science, and is in itself a major part of promoting the societal values that are at the core of modernization and development. These are not two separate tasks, promoting two separate endeavors, they are a single, more effective way of doing either or both.

The scientific communities of the developing world must by their engagement help create the “space of freedom” necessary for civilized constructive social discourse and essential for the practice of science, even more than the availability of money.  This commitment is the only way to create centers of excellence in the developing world and to ensure that the benefits of progress accrue to the poor and the marginalized. It is these “values of science” that can unleash the full measure of their talent and their genius. All of that however, requires liberating the mind from the despotism of intolerance, bigotry and fear, and opening the doors to free inquiry, tolerance and imagination. 

I am optimistic that we will be able to build this compact between science and society… between the practitioners of science and the citizenry at large, a relationship of trust and mutual respect… I am sanguine that our younger generation will join in the long tradition of those who have fought to cast off the shackles that would impose tyranny on the minds of people… the engaged citizen of the developing world is keen to take charge of his own destiny, rejects tutelage and is unbowed by a history where the doors to freedom and self expression are being opened only now.  I am confident that you will hear my voice and his, as I say to you with Henley’s invictus:

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbow’d.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Thank you. And Good bye.

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