Freedom and responsibility in science in the 21st century

Technological and social developments are profoundly influencing the way science is practised, demanding a re-evaluation of our core principle of freedom and responsibility in science.

The Principle of Freedom and Responsibility in Science is at the heart of all the Council’s work. It sets out the freedoms that scientists ought to enjoy, balanced by their obligation to engage in responsible scientific practice and behaviour. The developments in this century demand a review of the meaning of this Principle, and of the role of bodies such as the ISC in upholding its basic tenets in this new and rapidly evolving context. 

Anticipated impact

The work of the Committee for Freedom and Responsibility in Science (CFRS) in the coming years will be concerned with the need for effective responses to the anti-science discourse and a reexamination of the meaning of scientific freedom and responsibility in the 21st century. This initiative will make use of the unique global reach of the ISC in identifying the issues that affect scientists in their interactions with policymakers and the general public. It will explore and promote the right to science as a global public good and the right to scientific freedom.

A contemporary perspective on the responsible practice of science


This project will explore contemporary perspectives on the meaning and interpretation of scientific freedom and responsibility, including the responsibility of scientists to engage in providing advice to policymakers, to communicate their results to the general public, and to advocate for the value of science and for scientific values. It will determine the ethical dimensions of these various interactions, and the boundaries of advocacy as these relate to the underpinnings of consensus views.

The CFRS will develop globally informed guidance for ISC members, for research and educational institutions, and for individual scientists and their communities on what constitutes responsible conduct in contemporary science. Special attention will be given to countries that are working to strengthen their science research systems.  

Key milestones

  • The project began with a Framing Document that set out the challenge and framed the main issues in relation to a contemporary perspective of the responsible practice of science.

Next steps

  • A writing group has been convened to draft a paper outlining a contemporary perspective on the responsible practice of science, and the main issues at stake. This will form the basis of a Position Paper to be published by the CFRS.
  • This paper will be used as a spring-board to start a global discussion with various stakeholders, leading to an expert workshop to take place in early 2021.
  • The results of this scoping process will be the development of a ‘tool-kit’ of items that are necessary in a science system that protects and encourages free and responsible practice of science, together with guidelines on how to achieve this.
  • These global guidelines will be further elaborated for use at national and disciplinary levels.