On the idea of the Commonwealth presenting a united scientific front

In 1967 Britain’s Royal Society convened a group of 36 British scientists and 44 more from Commonwealth nations for the first, and only, Conference of Commonwealth Scientists. Peter Blackett, then the society’s president, said that “any body like the Royal Society which is actively concerned with scientific development in the poor, underdeveloped countries, should look beyond science to the whole problem of development”. The meeting took an unpopular line against the Ministry of Overseas Development, and publicly disagreed with the United Nations’ policies on universities in African nations.

Noble ideas they surely were, but the Royal Society’s involvement with the Commonwealth faded away—until this week. The meeting has been reborn as the Commonwealth Science Conference, and this time the venue was Bangalore, in India. The Commonwealth is by now home to nearly a third of the world’s population, and scientists are beginning to recognise its potential for global cooperation. Despite its diversity of race, religion, culture, climate and stages of development, members are bound—in theory, at least—by a common language, a shared history and a commitment to democracy…