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ICSU takes action against restrictions to ‘freedom in the conduct of science’

In response to various social and political forces—in both developed and developing nations—that pose potential threats to the fundamental principle of universal freedom in the conduct of science, the International Council for Science (ICSU) will undertake a comprehensive review of the current global situation.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil- ICSU will examine three specific aspects of this issue: existing and emerging threats to freedom; the scope of the actual and potential problems worldwide; and, recommendations for responding to the needs of individual scientists facing particular limitations or restrictions and identifying parallel responsibilities.

“During the public debate that erupted in the UK regarding scientific collaboration with Israeli scholars (April 2002), ICSU issued a statement* reaffirming our commitment to the principle of universal freedom,” says Dr. James Dooge, former Chair of ICSU’s Standing Committee on Freedom in the Conduct of Science (SCFCS). “However, in its report to ICSU’s General Assembly, the SCFCS clearly outlined many other pressing concerns.”

For example, subsequent to the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, the United States is implementing security measures that make it more difficult for scientists from particular nations to receive travel visas for scientific conferences in a timely manner. ICSU recommends that such issues be proactively addressed. In fact, on 27 September 2002, then President Dr. Hiroyuki Yoshikawa wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to raise ICSU’s concerns and initiate dialogue on achieving mutually agreeable arrangements.

At the same time, ICSU is committed to ensuring that individual scientists recognize the responsibilities associated with the rights outlined in the principle of Freedom in the Conduct of Science. Thus, they will undertake efforts to reinforce the need for scientists and conference organizers to provide adequate information and allow sufficient time for the processing of visa applications, etc.

ICSU’s statement on freedom in the conduct of science covers three critical areas: freedom to pursue science and to publish the results; freedom to communicate amongst scientists and to disseminate scientific information; and freedom of movement of scientific materials.

The SCFCS believes strongly that the global questions currently on the scientific agenda will require increased multidisciplinary and international collaboration. It also believes that restrictions such as those described above will have a negative impact on the overall value of science, both nationally and internationally.

“We want to look at these questions from all sides, and find ways to work with governments and policy makers to ensure the universal rights of scientists remain intact,” says Dr. Peter Warren, Chair of the SCFCS. “This is critical to ICSU’s mission of pursuing science for society on a global scale.”

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