International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development, 2022

The International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development (IYBSSD) was declared by the UN General Assembly in resolution A/RES/76/14 on 2 December 2021.

The timing of the resolution before the year of observance is unusually short – by comparison, the UNGA resolution for the concurrent IYAFA 2022 was adopted 4 years earlier. The difference with IYBSSD appears (from text in the resolution itself) to be that a steering committee established by “the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics and 40 other science unions and organizations” had been working since 2017 to build their constituency and promote UNGA adoption of the concept.

Even that seems atypical in an organization that responds primarily to initiatives of member states. However, the proponents of IYBSSD did bring the concept before UNESCO (the eventual lead agency in the UN system for the Year), which in 2019 adopted a resolution supporting it.

Goals of IYBSSD 2022

The fundamental proposition of this Year is that basic sciences are foundational to technologies applied in programs for sustainable development. The IYBSSD website puts it this way (“About” page, accessed 31 Oct. 2022):

“Basic sciences are the sine qua non for sustainable development”

It is certainly true that technological advances and applications of technology build on basic research and discovery. The IYBSSD is making the connection more specifically between basic sciences and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Audience(s) & messaging of IYBSSD 2022

While its concern is a broad topic of science in development, IYBSSD’s primary audience seems to be decisionmakers, per the description on its site (emphasis added):

“[IYBSSD] is a key moment of mobilization to convince economic and political leaders, as well as every citizen, of the importance of taking into account and mastering basic sciences to ensure a balanced, sustainable and inclusive development of the planet.”

The prominent use of a Latin phrase – sine qua non – in the short English description cited above seems to underscore this orientation. (While Latin phrases may be accepted in much English usage, what does it communicate to the average reader in this context, and how effective would it be in broad marketing?)

There may have been be good reasons for this focus in audience, but I also see a missed opportunity by not framing IYBSSD more explicitly in broader terms.

The place of “traditional knowledge”?

The field of international development has come to recognize the importance of what is often called “traditional knowledge. or “indigenous knowledge” in development. The study of how, for example, local cultures and communities understand and interpret their environment, and the insights they have developed in this process, goes back almost a half-century now. The terminology in this field is varied, but that interface of science and traditional knowledge is sometimes called “indigenous science.”

In any event, I think traditional knowledge would also be considered foundational to sustainable development. How does the IYBSSD’s emphasis on basic science account for this dimension of knowledge in processes of development?

More on messaging & translation

A phrase seen elsewhere on the IYBSSD website seems more appealing for conveying the message of the Year – “Basic sciences at the heart of sustainable development” – although one might suggest that people are actually at the heart of development processes. Perhaps something so simple as “Basic sciences are basic to development” might have worked?

The IYBSSD website is available in three of the six UN official languages – French and Spanish, as well as English. It would be interesting to know the thinking behind that choice.

Returning to the “Basic sciences are the sine qua non for sustainable development” slogan, one notes that the French and Spanish versions use words from those respective languages rather than carrying over the Latin term (emphasis added):

  • Les sciences fondamentales, indissociables du développement durable
  • Las ciencias básicas son indispensables para el desarrollo sostenible

This choice also raises questions about the thinking behind it.

Finally, I did not find any mention of the topic of translation of educational and media materials about basic sciences into diverse languages. That would seem to be essential in linking basic sciences to wider awareness of their importance in sustainable development. Perhaps we need an International Year of Translating Science and Knowledge. perhaps before the end of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages?


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