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AAAS Advises UNESCO on Updating 1974 Recommendation on Scientific Researchers

At its 37th General Conference session in November 2013, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) initiated a process of revising its 1974 Recommendation on the Status of Scientific Researchers. UNESCO subsequently called for advice on how the statement should be updated to reflect current issues facing scientists and the international scientific community. The Recommendation is a pivotal document that establishes policy frameworks for Member States’ science and technology policies and practices, as well as norms on the rights of scientists.

On October 30, 2014, AAAS submitted comments regarding how the pivotal Recommendation can better reflect “today’s concerns about science in relation to society” [2]. In the letter, AAAS Chief Executive Officer Alan Leshner emphasizes that the Recommendation needs to be updated to “reflect changes in the social organization of science, the impact of the digital revolution, the transformation of the broader environment in which scientists work and persisting disparities in the capacity of countries to fund research and of people to gain access to the benefits of science” [2]. 

To this end, the letter offers several key suggestions, many of which broaden the Recommendation’s inclusiveness. Leshner notes that the Recommendation’s definition of science should include all fields of contemporary science—life, physical, computational, behavioral, social—as well as engineering. The Recommendation should also be expanded to protect scientists against specific types of discrimination not mentioned in the original, including discrimination related to disability and sexual orientation. Additionally, the letter cites the value of promoting diversity within the science community and considering the views of developed and developing countries during the Recommendation’s revision process.

Leshner suggests the updated Recommendation contain more explicit references to the specific human rights of scientists, including freedom of association, expression and movement. The Recommendation should also acknowledge the responsibilities of scientists, such as professional ethics and scientific responsibility. Moreover, Leshner urges the “importance of considering scientific freedom and responsibility as two sides of the same coin, where both are critical to being a productive and successful scientist” [2].

UNESCO concluded its first call for advice in November 2014 and will conduct a second round in 2015. A revised version of the Recommendation will be voted on by UNESCO member nations at its 39th general conference in 2017.



This article is part of the Fall 2014 issue of Professional Ethics Report (PER). PER, which has been in publication since 1988, reports on news and events, programs and activities, and resources related to professional ethics issues, with a particular focus on those professions whose members are engaged in scientific research and its applications.