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, and is enshrined in Statute II., Article 7, of the ISC Statutes and Rules of Procedure. It sets out the freedoms that scientists ought to enjoy, balanced by their obligation to engage in responsible scientific practice and behaviour. The rapidly changing contexts within which scientific research is undertaken and applied in contemporary society have prompted the ISC to re-examine 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.

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

✅ July 2020: 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.

✅ September 2020 – November 2021: A writing group (see below) was convened to draft a paper outlining a contemporary perspective on the responsible practice of science, and the main issues at stake.

✅ December 2021: Publication of the CFRS Discussion Paper and multimedia portal “A contemporary perspective on the free and responsible practice of science in the 21st century“.

📃 Read the press release.

A contemporary perspective on the free and responsible practice of science in the 21st century

A contemporary perspective on the free and responsible practice of science in the 21st century

CFRS Discussion paper

DOI: 10.24948/2021.12

Executive summary
of the CFRS Discussion paper

“A contemporary perspective on the free and responsible practice of science in the 21st century”

Next steps

🟡 This paper will be used as a springboard to start a global discussion with various stakeholders throughout 2022. Targeted activities are planned in partnership with the ISC’s Members and partners, including a series of publications and interactive events.

🟡 The first activity will be a workshop taking place in early 2022 to discuss the findings of the paper, the key challenges posed and recommendations made.

🟡 The result of this process will be the development of new resources which aim to facilitate the implementation of key recommendations emerging from the Discussion Paper. The ambition is to advise key stakeholders on the conditions that are necessary in a science system that protects and encourages the 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.

🟡 Get in touch with Vivi Stavrou, CFRS Executive Secretary, to register your interest in participating in these activities.

Writing group

  • Richard Bedford, Emeritus Professor at the University of Waikato and at the Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. View Richard’s full profile on our website.
  • Jean-Gabriel Ganascia, Chair of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS)  Ethics Committee; and Professor, Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), Paris, France.
  • Robin Grimes, Fellow of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, Steele Professor of Energy Materials at Imperial College. View Robin’s full profile on our website.
  • Willem Halffman, Associate Professor in Philosophy and Science Studies, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Associate Member of the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Policy (SKAPE) University of Edinburgh.
  • Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director, Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and Professor in Clinical Epidemiology, Columbia University, United States.
  • Gong Ke, Chairman, the Academic Committee of Nankai University; Executive Director, Chinese Institute for New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Strategies and President, World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO).
  • Indira Nath, Professor, Indian Academy of Sciences (to October 2021).
  • Cheryl Praeger, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Western Australia. View Cheryl’s full profile on our website.
  • Hans Thybo, Professor of Geophysics at Istanbul Technical University, Turkey, and the University of Oslo, Norway. View Hans’ full profile on our website.
  • Koen Vermeir,  Research Professor at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) and the University of Paris; Co-Chair of the Global Young Academy.



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