Freedom and Responsibility in Science

The Council’s Committee for Freedom and Responsibility in Science (CFRS) is the custodian of the Principle of Freedom and Responsibility in Science, which is enshrined in Article 7 of the ISC Statutes. The committee works at the intersections between science and human rights to uphold and protect the freedoms that scientists should enjoy, and the responsibilities they carry, while engaging in scientific practice.

Freedom and Responsibility in Science

In 2022, the Committee responded to freedom and responsibility cases in Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Greece, Ukraine, Sudan, Fiji, China, Japan, Australia, USA and Nicaragua, and is currently monitoring a portfolio of 30 cases in total. 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 New Zealand government has actively supported the CFRS since 2016. This support continues with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment supporting the CFRS via CFRS Special Advisor Gustav Kessel, based at the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi. In the context of the persistent impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing geopolitical tensions, the Council’s work on freedom and responsibility in science expanded on the theme of ‘science in times of crisis’. The ISC launched the Science in Exile Declaration in collaboration with the World Academy of Sciences, the InterAcademy Partnership in April, and the well-received podcast series, ‘Science in Times of Crisis’ in December.

The war in Ukraine brought attention to the global implications and consequences of wholescale attacks on higher education and science systems. It also highlighted the need for the science sector to play an active role during times of crisis to better prepare, protect, respond and rebuild, with a need for on-going coordination of programmes, policies and advocacy. Only a few days into the war, the ISC published a statement and undertook to publish statements, offers of assistance and resources from science organizations worldwide. In March, the ISC was invited at a ministerial meeting of European Union governments to discuss the appropriate response by the science sector, and the issue of potential sanctions against Russian scientific institutions and scientists. In June, the ISC along with the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA), Kristiania University College, and #ScienceForUkraine, co-hosted the ‘Conference on the Ukraine Crisis: Responses from the European Higher Education and Research Sectors’. The conference brought together more than 150 stakeholders from across Europe, and generated a report with key recommendations to support academics, researchers, students and higher education and science systems affected by conflict.

Anne Husebekk

ISC Vice-President for Freedom and Responsibility in Science

‘The ISC promotes and safeguards the free and responsible practice of science and argues for the symbiotic relationship of these tw13o principles. In 2022 we experienced an increase in threats in this regard. The COVID-19 pandemic showed that certain publics had mistrusted both experts and government officials when it came to science finding solutions to the acute issues of the pandemic, sometimes with life-threatening consequences.

As witnessed in Afghanistan and Ukraine, the world experienced an uptick in attacks on scientists and whole science systems. Responsibility issues are as important but often harder for scientists to approach. The challenges of new forms of communication and generative Artificial Intelligence, for example, offer new opportunities to advance science while at the same time posing complex challenges to scientific research. CFRS has a standing mandate to advocate for the free and responsible practice of science and to respond appropriately if either freedom or responsibility is violated.’

As the profile of the Committee for Freedom and Responsibility in Science’s portfolio has risen, the ISC is increasingly called upon to provide expert comment on global issues relating to the free and responsible pursuit of science. In 2022, this included moderating a National Academies of Sciences’ Committee for Human Rights webcast on ‘Censorship and the Right to Information during the Pandemic’, holding a thematic session at the World Science Forum on ‘Intersections between Social Justice and the Free and Responsible Conduct of Science’, and collaboration with UNESCO on the ‘UNESCO Scientific Freedom Report: African Perspectives on Scientific Freedom: Insights from Policy and Practice in Six Countries’.

While podcasts have been particularly effective at growing its audience, the Committee has also been heavily committed to strengthening the impact and visibility of its activities through regular social media engagement and increased contributions to the ISC website through news announcements and blog pieces. Most prominently, these have focused on: expert commentary on the relationship between social justice and science; expert reactions to the ban on women from tertiary education by the Taliban; a statement of continued support in the long-standing case of Greek statistician, Andreas Georgiou; an interview on racial discrimination and equal access in geospatial science; an interview with CFRS member Joyce Nyoni on the state of HIV/AIDS research in Africa, and a piece on censorship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ukraine conference report

In August 2022, following the Ukraine conference, the Council released a report covering the full breadth of the discussions held, including important lessons on how to support the science sector in Ukraine, and putting forward high-level policy recommendations for mid- to long-term support. Addressing a wide range of stakeholders, including governments, multilateral organizations, international science organizations and systems, the report provided suggested pathways towards the reconstruction and strengthening of Ukraine’s higher education and research sector post-conflict.

Conference on the Ukraine War: Responses from the European Higher Education and Research Sectors

On 15 June 2022 the ISC and partners the All European Academies (ALLEA), Kristiania University College, and Science for Ukraine co-hosted the ‘Conference on the Ukraine Crisis: Responses from the European Higher Education and Research Sectors’.

The recommendations focussed on seven key principles:

  1. The Responsibility to support the right to education and science;
  2. International Solidarity to support war-affected scientists, researchers and students;
  3. Adopting the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science;
  4. Inclusion as a priority in the design of support programmes and opportunities;
  5. Scientific Mobility through global mechanisms and coordination that prevent the loss of knowledge and potential held by war-affected scientists, researchers and students;
  6. Flexibility in support and funding programmes to recognize the evolving needs of war-affected scientists, researchers and students and to allow for both remote and in-person participation;
  7. Predictability in the phases of preparedness, response and rebuilding in the face of conflict, through cooperation in the development of sustainable frameworks by all stakeholders.

Throughout the year, the ISC-ALLEA co-led Ukraine Science Stakeholders’ Group continued to meet monthly to share information on protection and support initiatives for the Ukrainian scientific community. The ISC involved STM – the international association of science publishers – in this group. That participation led to the decision by Research4Life, an STM programme providing open access to scientists in low-income countries, to provide complete and free open access to Ukrainian scientists. In July, Research4Life members agreed to apply this policy in future to every country with massive displacement of its scientific community caused by war. The success of the June 2022 conference generated interest from other stakeholders, including in Brussels at the ‘United Europe: Widening Research and Innovation (R&I) Cooperation in Times of War’ conference, which featured ISC’s Mathieu Denis as a keynote speaker.

‘Science in Times of Crisis’ podcast

Geopolitical tensions and the effects of global crises on populations are escalating. The impact of these issues on world science systems is extremely disruptive. To explore this issue, the CFRS produced a five-episode podcast series on what crises and geopolitical instability mean for science and scientists, which aired throughout December 2022. Offering a comprehensive analysis of the complex relationship between geopolitics and science, the series explored what lessons we can learn from the past, how science is impacted by crises in the present, and what solutions we can implement to ensure greater resilience in the future.

Science in Times of Crisis

This 5-part-series provides detailed accounts of the complicated relationship between geopolitics and science, asking what we can learn from the past, the challenges of the present, and what diplomatic solutions can we begin implementing in the future to ensure a more resilient science sector.

With the aim of generating constructive dialogue and highlighting the importance of the topic among the wider science community, each episode saw two experts provide thought-provoking insights on: i) science during the Cold War and Apartheid in South Africa; ii) global pandemics and Brazil’s tumultuous science–policy nexus, focusing on climate change and deforestation; iii) science in the Arctic and in space being disrupted by conflict; iv) the implications on science systems in Iraq after multiple crises and conflict; and v) the realities of science diplomacy, especially for ‘Track Two’ diplomatic organizations such as the ISC.

‘We also have to consider that in some cases, such as Ukraine, when all the infrastructure is destroyed because of war, scientists cannot proceed with their work, and we are saddened by the problems our colleagues are facing.’

Piero Benvenuti, International Astronomy Union, on the loss of collaboration on space research due to the Ukraine war in the Episode 3, ‘The Fallout of Conflict: The Arctic and Outer Space’

‘I think classical traditional diplomacy indeed is failing because it could not grasp the profoundness of the challenges that we are confronting today, the unprecedented risks, be it with the COVID-19 or the vaccines, be it also with climate change.’

Irina Bokova, ISC Patron, Episode 5, ‘Preventing Crisis: Science Diplomacy and Track Two Organizations’

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