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AAAS Submits Public Comments to UNESCO


                                                                                    October 30, 2014


Dr. Dafna Feinholz

Chief of the Bioethics and Ethics of Science and Technology Section


Place de Fontenoy, Paris


Electronic Submission:

Dear Dr. Feinholz:

On behalf of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), I am pleased to respond to your request for advice on how to improve the 1974 Recommendation on the Status of Scientific Researchers. AAAS is the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society with approximately 120,000 individual members and 262 affiliated societies, and the publisher of the highly esteemed peer-reviewed journal, Science.

In thinking about the matters addressed in the 1974 Recommendation, we are guided by the 1975 AAAS document, Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. That seminal report made clear that “the issues of scientific freedom and responsibility are basically inseparable. Scientific freedom…is an acquired right, generally approved by society as necessary for the advancement of knowledge from which society may benefit. The responsibilities are primary; scientists can claim no special rights, other than those possessed by every citizen, except those necessary to fulfill the responsibilities that arise from the possession of special knowledge and of the insight arising from that knowledge.” We, therefore, emphasize 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.

Although, the essence of the 1974 Recommendation is as relevant today as it was nearly 40 years ago, there is a need for updating 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. Scientific research is more international than ever before, costs are increasing, the role of the private sector is expanding, and science is inextricably intertwined with major political, social, military, and economic interests. As a result, science is subject to competing claims from an expanding number of stakeholders and there are greater demands on science for accountability and transparency.

Furthermore, there are still places in the world where scientists are severely restricted in their freedom to travel, to pursue certain lines of inquiry, or to disseminate their findings. In such instances, it is important for the scientific community to collectively assert, through UNESCO and other international organizations, that scientific research flourishes best and is more likely to contribute to society’s needs in conditions that foster “respect [for] the freedom indispensable for scientific research” (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, UN, 1966).

We offer the following suggestions regarding the process of revision as well as general and specific suggestions concerning the content of the 1974 Recommendation:

  1. Process of revision:
  1. The process should capture the views of a wide segment of the scientific community, being sure to include views from both developed and developing countries.
  2. If the document is to retain its legitimacy as a statement of “the relationship between what scientific researchers can reasonably expect of society, and what society can reasonably ask from its scientific researchers,” then the revision process should include broad public consultation.
  3. In the revision process, emphasis should be given to the development of tools and metrics for measuring and evaluating the progress of efforts that the revised Recommendation is intended to address.
  1. Content: General
  1. The importance of specific human rights of relevance to scientists should be made more explicit, including freedom of movement, freedom of association, and freedom of expression.
  2. Similarly, there should be a focus on the critical importance of diversity, in all of its manifestations, to both the conduct of research and its social consequences. For example, article III.11. (a) concerning discrimination should be updated to acknowledge explicitly discrimination on the basis of disability and sexual orientation.
  3. The revision should make explicit the connection between scientific research and the right to “enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications” and related protections articulated in Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966).
  4. Acknowledging the increasing role of the private sector in research and development, suggestions should be made as to how Member States might appropriately regulate and create incentives for the private sector to act in accordance with the Recommendation.
  5. The revision should expand on the notion of the “social responsibilities” of science (see, for example, article I.1 (e)), providing examples of what such responsibilities entail. The document should also address the connection between scientists’ professional and social responsibilities (the issues surrounding “dual use research” are of particular relevance here).
  6. The Preamble refers to the development by Member States of indigenous scientific research capacity. For those States without the financial means to do so, suggestions should be made for how to encourage international contacts and cooperation in science, including engaging diaspora scientific communities and targeted international development assistance.
  1. Content: Article I, Scope of Application
  1. The definition of ‘science’ (article I.1 (a) (i)) should explicitly recognize the value and importance of all fields of science – life, physical, computational, behavioral and social – as well as engineering. The definition should also be updated to refer to ‘humankind’ rather than ‘mankind.’
  2. The definition of ‘scientific research’ (article I.1. (c) (i)) should explicitly recognize the value and importance of both fundamental and applied research.
  3. Validation, as a component of ‘science’ (article I.1 (a) (i)) and ‘scientific research’ (I.1. (c) (i)) should be emphasized, including the responsibility of scientists to share their research findings and data, and to submit their findings to peer review.
  1. Content: Article II, Scientific researchers in the context of national policy-making
  1. Reference to the application of science and technology to vast and complex problems (article II.6) should be updated to refer explicitly to climate change.
  2. Where decision-making consistent with public opinion is encouraged (Article II, II.5 (b)), suggestions should be made for effectively and responsibly communicating science to the public.
  1. Content: Article III, The initial education and training of scientific researchers
  1. The revision should comment on the education of future scientists as it relates to their ethical and social responsibilities, including suggestions on what might constitute an “adequate education” on such matters and institutional responsibilities for providing this education.


Yours sincerely,


Alan I. Leshner