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Working paper

Protecting Science in Times of Crisis

The International Science Council announces the release of its timely publication, Protecting Science in Times of Crisis: How do we stop being reactive, and become more proactive?

This comprehensive paper by the Centre for Science Futures, the ISC’s think tank, addresses the urgent need for a new approach to safeguard science and its practitioners during global crises. With many conflicts spread over vast geographical zones; increasing extreme weather events due to climate change; and natural hazards such as earthquakes in unprepared regions, this new report takes stock of what we have learned in recent years from our collective efforts to protect scientists and scientific institutions during times of crisis.

“Critically, the report comes at a time when schools, universities, research centres and hospitals, all places which promote the advancement of education and scientific research, have been places of conflict, and destroyed or damaged during the Ukraine, Sudan, Gaza and other crises. We in the scientific community must reflect on the creating the enabling conditions for science to survive and thrive.”

Peter Gluckman, President of the International Science Council

Protecting Science in Times of Crisis

International Science Council. (February 2024). Protecting Science in Times of Crisis. DOI: 10.24948/2024.01

Full paper Executive Summary

It proposes a practical set of concrete measures, following the stages of humanitarian response, that are meant to be jointly implemented by the best-placed public and private actors in the international science ecosystems. It also identifies how existing policy frameworks can be enhanced, including specific amendments to current international treaty and regulations.

The current number of refugee and displaced scientists can be estimated at 100,000 worldwide. Yet, our response mechanisms merely mean a temporary solution for a fraction of that number. At a time when the world urgently needs knowledge from all parts of the world to address global challenges, we cannot collectively lose all that science and global investment in research.

“With this new publication, the Centre for Science Futures ambitions to fill an important gap in the discussions on the protection of scientists and science during crises. The study details options for more effective multilateral policy agenda, as well as action frameworks that science institutions can start collaborating on immediately”

Mathieu Denis, head of the Centre for Science Futures of the International Science Council

Echoing UNESCO’s 2017 Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers, the paper provides insights which can help shape future consultations within global and national science systems on how to act on the UNESCO 2017 recommendation.

Additional resources: Infographics and video

Accompanying the paper is a set of infographics and an animated video to illustrate the actions that can be taken by the science community and relevant stakeholders during each of the three phases of the humanitarian response. These materials are licensed under CC BY-NC-SA. You are free to share, adapt and use these resources for non-commercial purposes.

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A call to action

The ISC is urging international scientific institutions, governments, academies, foundations, and the broader scientific community to embrace the recommendations outlined in “Protecting Science in Times of Crisis”. By doing so, we can contribute to a more resilient, responsive, and prepared scientific ecosystem capable of withstanding the challenges of the 21st century.

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Key findings

The key findings of this paper are organized in alignment with the phases of humanitarian response: prevent and prepare (the pre-crisis phase), protect (the crisis response phase), and rebuild (post-crisis phase). A summary of the main findings is given below:

Prevention and preparedness (pre-crisis phase)

  1. Deepening support for science through policy and action frameworks that protect or improve funding, access and communication; these help to build support for science and reduce the likelihood and impact of political attack, disinformation campaigns or funding cuts.
  2. Improving the personal and institutional scientific networks in place before a crisis increases the resilience and preparedness of individuals and institutions alike.
  3. A disconnect between academic and science decision-makers and the professionals working on risk increases the likelihood of disasters impacting science systems.
  4. The scientific community struggles to translate its expertise in risk assessment into more structured approaches to the risks facing the sector itself. Systemic and cultural obstacles reduce capacity for effective leadership, planning and decisionmaking.
  5. Scientists must get involved in grant acquisition and management to build more resilient science systems, especially where they see significant risks to the sector going unaddressed.

Protect (crisis-response phase)

  1. Solidarity to support those affected by crisis exists. More predictable global standards and information-sharing mechanisms which incorporate local voices are necessary to help science actors meet the needs of those affected.
  2. Digitization allows for data sovereignty, greater mobility and a more flexible response to crisis. The secure maintenance and rescue of archives ensures academic, cultural and historical continuity.
  3. During a major crisis, public money is often diverted to priorities other than science. This puts salaries, research grants and other types of support for science in danger. Alternative, flexible funding mechanisms are needed to fill these gaps.
  4. Flexible programme and funding models that enable changes in location, and both remote and in-person participation, help scientists to continue their work, and enable ‘brain circulation’.

Rebuild (post-crisis phase)

  1. Ensuring that science and research are a priority for recovery plans will accelerate the mobilization of useful knowledge, ensure the training of local experts and professors, and support reconciliation and the sense of belonging. International and crosssectoral scientific partnerships can have a crucial role to play in post-crisis planning and calling for cooperation with development actors.
  2. Professional incentives in science provide little motivation for scientists and institutions to get involved in post-crisis collaboration that is focused on capacity strengthening or that has aims that are not explicitly scientific.
  3. When visions and interests align between local and international actors, there is potential for post-crisis reform and transformation. Local scientists should be involved in shaping recovery. It can help avoid the imposition of foreign models onto local scientific communities and science systems.
  4. The reconstruction phase creates an opportunity to advance the open science agenda and, in the process, supports the recovery of affected scientists through greater integration in international networks and fairer access to scientific platforms, equipment and technology

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. By taking a more proactive, global and sector-wide approach to building the resilience of the science sector, for example through a new policy framework, we can realize both monetary and social value for science and wider society.

Image of the National Museum of Brazil by AllisonGinadaio on Unsplash.

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