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Putting science on the agenda for post-crisis recovery

At the UNESCO Symposium on "Rebuilding Scientific Ecosystem in Ukraine," Vivi Stavrou, ISC Senior Science Officer and Executive Secretary of the ISC Committee for Freedom and Responsibility in Science (CFRS), stressed the necessity of a global framework to protect science during crises. She introduced the ISC's report, "Protecting Science in Times of Crisis," advocating for a coordinated and proactive response from the scientific community.

Crises—whether they be wars, natural disasters, or pandemics—inevitably disrupt societies and economies. The road to recovery is long and arduous. Communities are left grappling with numerous challenges, including rebuilding infrastructure, restoring livelihoods, addressing health and mental health needs, and fostering social cohesion. Amidst these challenges, science and international scientific collaboration have proven to be invaluable assets in rebuilding communities and fostering resilience.

The ISC’s programme on Science in Times of Crisis came about as a response to the increasing number of scientists and scholars who are at risk, who have been forced to leave their country or workplace because of threats they have received in the course of conducting and communicating their scientific research.

These numbers have grown exponentially. We exist at a time in which war, civil strife, disasters and climate change impact almost every corner of the globe. As we face more likelihood of geostrategic instability, further wars, pandemics, big population shifts precipitated by climate change, we must start to think more systematically about the impact of such events on the scientific ecosystem.

The need for a more coordinated and proactive approach

There is currently no global framework, unlike for education and culture, in which to understand the long-term needs of science systems which can help frame both preventative and emergency measures, as well as post-crisis rebuilding priorities and strategies for science.

The report, “Protecting Science in Times of Crisis: How do we stop being reactive and become more proactive?” addresses the urgent need for a new approach to safeguard science and its practitioners during disasters and wars.

Protecting Science in Times of Crisis

This working paper takes stock of what we have learned in recent years from our collective efforts to protect scientists and scientific institutions during times of crisis. It details how scientific communities everywhere can best prepare for, respond to, and rebuild from crises.

The publication draws on lessons learnt from case studies across the world and across different crisis contexts, and brings together insight from the science, development, and humanitarian sectors, and relevant learning from other domains such as education, culture and heritage.

The paper is a first step towards scoping a more effective, “joined-up” and predictable approach to the protection and rebuilding of science systems, and so that the world is still able to benefit from scientific teaching and discovery even when conflict and disaster strikes.

Building the resilience of the science sector

The findings from our work to date suggest that too often, the scientific community’s response to crisis remains uncoordinated, ad hoc, reactive and incomplete. The escalation of the war in Ukraine has brought attention to the global consequences of wholesale attacks on higher education and science systems. Only when we think globally and holistically do our shared responsibilities as a scientific community appear clearly.

All actors from the science and research sector share a responsibility to better prepare for crises as that is the only way to enhance the resilience of the sector as a whole. That includes identifying how they can better prepare their own institutions to manage risk and respond to crisis, and clarifying how they can support scientists elsewhere affected by crisis.

The sector itself needs to take greater responsibility for its internal risk assessment and mitigation, to build the capacity of scientists and leaders in crisis and risk management, to get more resources for prevention and to help develop action frameworks with partner sectors.

Making the case for the value of science

In national or large-scale emergencies science tends to fall through the cracks. The result is a lack of information about the affected scientists, their needs and even their whereabouts. The science and research sector are rarely treated as a priority in the rebuilding efforts of national and international authorities. The initiative of smaller entities such as research agencies, universities, Academies, scientific unions and professional associations, and even individuals, are critical to bridge the gap.

An important factor in preparation that becomes critical in the recovery and rebuilding phase, is making the case for the value of science: Working with scientific leadership and science brokers in the policy and political space to navigate political barriers and highlight that a well-funded science and technology sector is core to every domain of national well-being and development.

We hear from Ukrainian colleagues about how important it is to work with their government to make science and technology an essential part of the vision of Ukraine’s future and strategy for reconstruction and to support systemic reforms in HE S&T. Widening and deepening public understanding of the value and return on investment of the sciences is a critical step in increasing trust in, and support for, science. Policies and actions that enhance public trust and state support for science are needed.

Creating an enabling environment for the free and responsible practice of science

Scientists can only contribute to post-war recovery if they have an enabling environment – this is more than funds to support research, more than infrastructure to work in and tools to use for their research. It also means an environment that welcomes critique and merit-based competition, that respects and safeguards ethical and responsible practice, that supports Open Science and respects diverse identities and knowledge systems.

The right to share in and to benefit from advances in science and technology is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as is the right to engage in scientific enquiry, to pursue and communicate knowledge, and to associate freely in such activities.

Rights go hand in hand with responsibilities; in the responsible practice of science and the responsibility of scientists to contribute their knowledge in the public space. Both are essential to the ISC’s vision of science as a global public good.

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