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Policy brief / advisory note

ISC position on freedom of association

Freedom of association is one of the fundamental scientific freedoms that the ISC Committee for Freedom and Responsibility in Science (CFRS) seeks to promote and uphold. Boycotts can undermine these freedoms and negatively impact international collaboration.

The ISC is from time to time made aware of situations in which boycotts of scientific meetings are proposed as a mechanism to protest or put pressure on country authorities to act in certain ways.

The right to engage in scientific enquiry, pursue and communicate knowledge, and to associate freely in such activities, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ISC’s Principle of Freedom and Responsibility in Science, should always guide our decision-making in this regard.   

The Principle of Freedom and Responsibility in Science entails the freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists, as well as equitable access to data, information, and other resources for research.  In advocating the free and responsible practice of science, the Council promotes equal opportunities for all scientists to participate in scientific exchange and cooperation. The ISC opposes restrictions to access to conferences and other scientific events based on political or other opinions, ethnic origin, language, religion, citizenship,  sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or age. 

In accordance with the Statutes of the ISC (Statute Two, Article 7), all ISC Members that organize or sponsor international scientific meetings are expected to ensure that participation of scientists is free from discrimination of any kind.  

The scientific endeavour requires personal contacts and exchanges among scientists. The ISC’s vision of science as a global good relies on effective cooperation between researchers across disciplines and parts of the world. Boycotts are often triggered by the willingness of scientists to denounce a perceived infringement of these very principles. More often than not, boycotts of conferences and events ultimately limit the sharing of knowledge between scientists and further isolate certain scientific communities from opportunities to exchange with their peers. For these reasons, the ISC should not in principle support boycotts. Individual scientists should be free to make their own choices about attending scientific meetings, bearing in mind the potential impact of their non-attendance on the wider research community. 

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