Freedom in the Conduct of Science

The Standing Committee on Freedom in the Conduct of Science (SCFCS) was created in 1963 as the Standing Committee on the Free Circulation of Scientists and renamed in 1993. Its terms of reference are:

1. to safeguard and promote the free circulation of scientists

2. to promote:
i. freedom to pursue science and to publish the results

ii. freedom to communicate among scientists and to disseminate scientific information

iii. freedom of movement of scientific materials.


International Science Conferences by definition attract scientists from many countries around the world. Travel between countries has become easier in recent years, but many restrictions still exist and may continue to do so. It is entirely legitimate that governments regulate and control who enters their countries. Often visas are required and the process to obtain a visa can be lengthy and time consuming, particularly for scientists travelling between countries in which there are strained diplomatic relations or from a country other than the scientists country of citizenship.

ICSU and SCFCS attempt to promote free circulation of scientists and help conference organizers as well as invited scientists to anticipate and to overcome visa and related problems. In many cases more lead time is needed than one would expect. While the ability of a scientist to travel to a conference is an essential element in freedom in the conduct of science, it is the scientists responsibility to do everything necessary to obtain travel documents in a timely and thorough manner.

Advice to organizers of international conferences

  1. Organizers should provide to ICSU written assurances that consultations with appropriate government agencies of the host country have taken place and assurances have been given that every effort will be made to facilitate the granting of visas to bona fide scientists from all countries.

  2. The first meeting announcements should be sent to potential participants at least 12 months prior to the planned conference. At the same time, a web page should be established which provides all relevant information contained in the conference announcement.

  3. Both announcements should be specific about what information must be included in applications for the required travel documents and indicate the amount of time normally required to obtain a visa.

  4. Note that in many cases much more than the usual amount of time may be required, in particular if scientists are living in a country other that their country of citizenship, or as citizens or residents of countries with strained diplomatic relations with the host country.

  5. Indicate a liaison person and a contact address at which prospective participants may obtain help if problems in obtaining a visa arise.

  6. Inform potential participants that if conference organizers are not made aware of visa problems several months before the conference, it may be impossible to provide assistance.

    Advice to participants

    1. Apply for the visa as early as possible in strict accordance with the authorities of the host country.

    2. Provide necessary documents and any supplementary information needed to obtain a visa.

    3. If problems arise contact the liaison person designated by the conference organizer and provide detailed information on the situation.

      Full information and advice to organizers of international scientific meetings is found in the Handbook of the Standing Committee entitled Universality of Science, available from the ICSU Secretariat.


      J.C.I. DOOGE (Ireland)


      O.G. TANDBERG (Sweden)

      A.T. BA (Senegal)
      C. CORILLON (United States)
      F.P. GUDYANGA (Zimbabwe)
      N. KROO (Hungary)
      Yuan T. LEE (China: Taipei)
      A. SOFOWORA (Nigeria)
      P. WARREN (United Kingdom)
      WU Ganmei (China: CAST)

      Ex Officio

      H.A. MOONEY (Secretary General)

      Executive Secretary

      P. SCHINDLER (Switzerland)
      Swiss Academy of Sciences
      CH 3011 Bern, Baerenplatz 2
      phone +41 31 312 2726
      fax +41 31 312 3291

last updated: July, 1998