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[MARRAKECH] A meeting of young scientists from around the world has approved operating rules for a new body intended to reinforce international links between them, and strengthen their voice in science policy discussions at the global level.

The World Academy of Young Scientists (WAYS) has been set up largely at the instigation of the Hungarian government — which hosted the World Conference on Science in Budapest in 1999 — and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the main organiser of the conference.

So far, more than 1,000 scientists younger than 40 have become members of the academy, which describes its role as "a permanent global network for the young scientific community that provides regular input into decision-making on science and technology".

Meeting for their first conference in Marrakech, Morocco, last week, the members of the academy — after a lengthy and at times heated discussion  — approved a constitution setting out some of the ways in which this goal will be achieved.

In particular, the Morocco meeting approved the creation of five discipline-based sections to focus on the issues faced by young scientists in: natural sciences; medical and life sciences; engineering and computer sciences; agricultural and environmental sciences; and human and social sciences.

The academy also decided that members would be divided into regional groupings, a move intended to soothe critics concerned about the current centralised structure of the academy. However, the exact number and distribution of these groupings has yet to be agreed.

"The type of activity that WAYS seeks to promote is very important for us, since it helps us to pool our resources and be masters of our own fate," says Serge Sawadogo, a malaria researcher working in Paris who will shortly be returning to his native Burkino Faso. "We want to become a fountain of knowledge that students and young researchers can turn to."

György Pálfi, a science and technology attaché of the Hungarian government, and one of the key figures behind WAYS, admits that one issue raised is whether the term "academy" is appropriate, given that its members are only at the start of their academic careers.

Furthermore, the initial membership is made up mainly of young scientists from around the world who have expressed an interest in joining the body, and criteria for selection have been kept low, based primarily on age and the demonstration of active engagement in research.

But Pálfi defends the decision to create an academy on the grounds that, eventually, as with other recognised scientific academies, membership will be based on scientific merit. This, he says, will be achieved by appointing new members from the winners of prizes awarded annually in each of the five scientific areas.

The juries in each case will consist of Nobel prize winners. "I would like to use our scientific and regional structure to present good candidates for selection to the academy, so that we can create a system for choosing the very brightest young researchers to become academicians of WAYS," says Pálfi.

"At the moment this is only a dream. But I hope that, with the help of the new structure that has been approved, we will eventually be able to achieve it, particularly since the young people we select are likely to be among future scientific leaders."

WAYS officials say that one of their chief goals is to make science more attractive to the young, and accessible to everyone — particularly in developing countries. The organisation is committed to "developing a more global approach to scientific issues, providing the best conditions for quality research, and increasing motivation for scientific careers.

"Our objective is to empower young excelling scientists both in the North and the South," says Marta Maczel, the provisional president of WAYS, who stepped down at the Marrakech meeting to be succeeded by French biologist Gaell Manguin.

One of the first tasks of the new organisation will be to arrange special sessions for young scientists, in collaboration with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, at the next World Science Forum, which takes place in Budapest in November 2005. The creation of WAYS was announced at the previous forum, which was held in November last year as a follow-up to the 1999 World Conference.

World Academy of Young Scientists