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COVID-19 and the IUCr

Alex Ashcroft
[Chester]
It has been a while since most of the IUCr staff have seen their offices (indicated in red) in Chester, UK, but here is a reminder, courtesy of DronePics.Wales, licensed under CC BY 4.0.

In mid-March, I posted an announcement on the IUCr website to say that IUCr staff were following government guidelines and working from home as much as possible. Seven months on and little has changed. Thanks to the expertise and dedication of the R&D staff in keeping our systems running and the professionalism and adaptability of the editorial staff, things are largely still functioning as normal despite the prolonged absence from the offices of most members of staff. We are determined to continue to provide the levels of service that you expect from IUCr Journals, so if you are encountering any problems, please do let us know. I was delighted to be copied on the following feedback from one of our authors recently: “As usual, what we will publish is better than what I submitted. This is the normal situation when publishing in IUCr journals (in contrast to virtually all other publishers).” Apart from reporting any problems, any positive feedback is always gratefully received. A staff working group has even found the time to complete the redesign of the IUCr website, culminating in a vibrant and well organised homepage whose colours are based on those of the IUCr Journals. This homepage provides easy access to all areas of the site, including IUCr Newsletter articles so you can stay in touch with news from the community. New minisites have been created (e.g. The IUCr, Outreach, CIF and Associates) to make navigation easier within the huge content of the site. 

With international travel severely restricted, the IUCr Finance Committee and Executive Committee (EC) had virtual meetings in March and August. Given the wide geographical distribution of EC members, meeting sessions were short and focussed, but we were very grateful to EC members for accepting meetings at unsociable hours and to Sven Lidin, IUCr President, for – as usual – keeping a fast pace through the agenda.

The IUCr made a modest profit last year. That makes three years in a row after a series of heavy losses. Our finances are still far from secure but are at least more robust than they were at the last Congress. I would like to thank everyone who sent me an estimate of the number of hours that they donated, without charge, to the Union in 2019. Those were of sufficient value to persuade the Swiss authorities not to require any tax to be paid for 2019. While our not-for-profit status is still recognised, Switzerland does require an annual declaration of donated hours before they will agree not to levy a tax. We are optimistic that another declaration will be necessary for 2020, but with global economies being ravaged by the pandemic, it is difficult to look any further with any confidence at this stage.

With most crystallographic meetings being postponed or cancelled this year, the Calendar Committee is busy revising its rules to allow virtual and hybrid meetings to be supported in future. A packed meeting calendar in 2021 will present challenges of its own, so the Committee aims to be as flexible and adaptable as budgets will allow.

The pandemic forced the Prague organisers to postpone the Congress until August 2021, but we hope that life will have returned to normal by then and that we can all get together to celebrate being able to get together (as well as the excellent science that you all do). The postponement of the Congress provides an opportunity for National Committees to modify or add to their nominations for IUCr Commissions and for the EC. It also gives more time for countries that are considering applying to join the IUCr, and the Executive Outreach Officer is already working closely (via Zoom) with at least one potential applicant. We would also like to thank the officials and members of the EC and the IUCr Commissions who agreed to add an extra year to their planned terms of office to take us through to the end of what will now be a quadrennium. 

One of my bosses in my previous job earned a (literal) slap in the face by telling his boss that there was no such thing as a problem as they are all opportunities. Nobody wanted this opportunity, but the pandemic has demonstrated to anyone who cares to pay attention just how important science in general and crystallography in particular are to our society. We have been trying to keep track of the contributions of crystallographers to characterise and understand the functionality of SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses. IUCr Journals are offering fast publication of relevant articles, which we expect to be published open access. Click here for free access to a special virtual issue presenting articles and abstracts on coronaviruses that have been published in IUCr journals, including Ted Baker’s acclaimed Editorial. The International Science Council has provided links from their website to our Newsletter articles and website for the benefit of the members of other international unions and associations. When a vaccine is finally available, the contributions of crystallographers and other structural scientists around the world will have been a critical part of humanity’s response to this terrible virus. 

Finally, our thoughts turn to the crystallographers we have lost and to those of you who have lost loved ones during this dreadful year. Stay safe and keep well. 

26 September 2020

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