Raising the international profile of your Society

Our General Secretary, Alan Shore, recently represented the Society at a meeting of the world’s learned academies in Philadelphia. Below you can read about his trip.

The Future of Learned Academies by Alan Shore

Robert Hauser, the Executive Officer of the American Philosophical Society, had the idea of convening a meeting of the world’s learned academies. After two years of planning, the meeting took place on the 12-14 June 2019 and was held in Philadelphia, hosted by the American Philosophical Society (APS). The meeting attracted academies from 20 countries. The geographical spread of the delegates was impressive with attendees from several African and European countries; North and South America having good representation; and Australia and Taiwan providing a Pacific Rim presence. The British Isles presence was completed by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Society and the Royal Dublin Society.

In due course, a summary of the proceedings of the meeting will be produced and so the aim of this article is simply to give a flavour of the meeting. Speaking of flavour, one may note that the APS were generous hosts providing welcome refreshments starting with an evening reception in the historical Library Hall of the APS. At that reception, when I explained to Moneef R. Zoubi (the Director-General of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences) that I was representing the LSW his immediate response was: John Wyn Owen. Thus, John Wyn is officially confirmed as the most famous LSW Fellow.

Most of the meeting was in the form of a round-table discussion held in the APS Franklin Hall. In the first place, all delegates were given precisely 6 minutes to introduce their academies. Striking differences between the approaches of the academies became apparent in this quick-fire session. Without naming names, one may mention one academy which banned anyone over 72 years of age being actively involved in that academy. In contrast, another academy imposed higher fees on members who were not actively involved in the academy’s activities.

Such differences were also apparent when discussions focussed on five themes: Membership; Technology; Communication; Funding and Collaboration. However, considerable commonality also emerged in these discussions. Strong emphasis was given to diversity with a particular focus on engaging younger participants in the activities of the academies. Common concerns were also expressed in regards to effectively communicating with the wider community – particularly in the ‘post-truth era’.

Funding was a topic with highly diverse views. Some academies derive huge incomes ‘for services rendered’ whilst others (again no names) had concerns about their future viability. The APS has no membership fees but members make voluntary donations averaging about $900 per annum. One such member of the APS is Mark Thompson, formerly the Director-General of the BBC and currently the CEO of the New York Times Company. He chaired an International Keynote Panel meeting which was open to the general public. Such open meetings are regular events for the APS and seemed to attract several regular attendees from the locality. Contributions from the floor ensured that this was a lively event.

The meeting concluded with a wrap-up session which agreed that another such meeting would be convened – probably to be held in Europe. For dates, time and location please watch this space.

You can view a recording of the public session of the conference here: boxcast.tv/view/public-keynote-international-symposium-on-the-future-of-learned-academies-236266