The private sector’s share of global science and innovation is growing, and is now estimated to represent approximately 70 per cent of global expenditure on science. At the same time, publicly funded researchers are increasingly encouraged to form partnerships with the private sector and to undertake research that will support private priorities, whilst the commercialization of academic research is increasingly regarded by government as a priority for universities.
This increasingly mixed research economy poses a number of dilemmas. Knowledge freely released into the public domain is by definition a public good. What are the pathways of public and private goods in the current world economy? Whilst peer review and the open publication of evidence are the standard routes by which scientific rigour has been maintained for publicly funded science, both are lacking in many areas of privately funded science.
In order to preserve trust in science, it is essential that public and private sector scientists apply similar ethical standards to those prevalent in the public sector.
Increased understanding and agreement on the norms of responsible conduct, transparency and ethical standards that are needed to protect science as a global good in both the public and private sectors.
Science in the Private Sector (project for development)
The incentives and the institutions that are designed to generate trust and confidence in public science are not necessarily present in the private sector. Whilst financial risk to a company’s investment may provide an incentive for strong internal peer review, the risk to the public from private-sector innovation would be expected to be covered by a regulator, if indeed effective regulation is imposed. There are differing norms for transparency, such as the role of the sponsor in experimental design, material provision, editorial roles, access to data and IP rights. In general, publics are less trustful of private sector science, in part because of major scandals, and in part because of the private interest in minimal regulation.
The aim of this project is to establish an expert working group to explore issues around trust in private sector science, and to prepare a discussion paper for consultation with members and other stakeholders. This would build on preliminary work on how private sector science is used in policy settings, carried out in 2018 by ISC-INGSA. Over the longer term, a forum will be explored for engagement between the science community represented by the ISC, and private sector stakeholders including both scientists and executives.
Initial work on a taxonomy of overlaps between public and private science, and towards the development of an implementation plan for the project have been put on hold because of COVID-related priorities.
However, the ISC is currently in partnership with IIASA on the project IIASA-ISC Consultative Science Platform: Pathways to a post-COVID World which is consulting closely with the private sector in its four themes:
- Governance for Sustainability
- Strengthening Science Systems
- Sustainable Energy
- Resilient Food Systems
Under the leadership of the International Science Council (ISC), a panel of eminent scientists shared reflections on knowledge gaps and research needs, as well as the integrated technological solutions discussed at the Global Sustainable Technology & Innovation Community (G-STIC) 2019.