4. Protecting scientific freedom and advocating for responsible practice

The principle that the free and responsible practice of science is fundamental to scientific advancement and human and environmental well-being is enshrined in the Council’s statutes. Within the Council, work to advocate for the free and responsible practice of science is overseen by the Committee for Freedom and Responsibility in Science (CFRS).

A committee of eleven members was appointed by August 2019, with ISC President Daya Reddy as its Chair, and met for the first time in November 2019. The work of the Committee for Freedom and Responsibility in Science (CFRS) in the coming years will be concerned with defending freedom for scientists, the need for effective responses to anti-science discourse, and re-examination of the meaning of scientific freedom and responsibility in the 21st century. The Committee developed an action plan to guide its work until 2022 and to deliver a number of projects, including the CFRS project on ‘Freedom and responsibility in the 21st century: a contemporary perspective of the responsible practice of science’.

The Committee responded to freedom and responsibility cases in Hungary, Turkey, Russia, China, the US, Brazil, Argentina, Iran and Egypt in 2019. This was in line with the CFRS mandate to consider and respond to threats to science systems and individual scientists whose freedoms and rights are restricted as a result of carrying out their work.

The Committee was pleased to report that Princeton graduate Xiyue Wang was released early from prison in Iran and returned to the US to be reunited with his family.

CFRS’s engagement in this area is prompted by alerts from ISC Members and the broader scientific community, and is underpinned by international human rights instruments relevant to science and scientists.

Support for the Committee from the New Zealand government (2016 to the present) is provided by Roger Ridley, Director Expert Advice and Practice at Royal Society Te Apārangi, assisted by Francine Harland.

The ISC was honoured to partner with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for the World Science Forum (WSF) in 2019.

“The right to engage in scientific enquiry, pursue and communicate knowledge, and to associate freely in such activities cannot be separated from the responsibility of scientists to uphold the highest ethical standards when pursuing their work, and to contribute their knowledge in the public space.”

From Daya Reddy’s opening remarks to the World Science Forum, November 2019

This resulted in meetings with representatives of the S20 (the G20’s science stream), the InterAmerican Institute for Global Change, the European Commission’s Open Science Unit and twelve of the ISC’s members as part of its outreach and engagement process.

The Council’s visibility at the Forum was high, with ISC President Daya Reddy and Vice-President Elisa Reis featuring at the opening and closing ceremonies respectively, and Secretary Alik Ismail-Zadeh and Chief Executive Officer Heide Hackmann giving speeches and interventions during panel sessions on issues such the urgent need for science to support the SDGs, the centenaries of science unions and open science and the future of publishing. The Forum theme, ‘science ethics and responsibility’, also meant strong representation by the CFRS in panels and side events.

Through the Council’s dedicated WSF webpage, its special edition newsletter distributed to all participants and strong presence on social media, the feedback on its engagement at the Forum from ISC members and participants was very positive.

The Council looks forward to partnering with the WSF on its 2021 edition and is keen to see enhanced use of online conferencing technologies to open the Forum to a wider audience and to ensure its relevance into the 21st century.


Photo: ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash.

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