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A Call to Revise the 1974 Recommendation on the Status of Scientific Researchers

In November 2013, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) began a process to revise the Recommendation on the Status of Scientific Researchers at the 37th session of the General Conference held in Paris.  The Recommendation, adopted in 1974, is recognized globally in 195 member states and was created to aid member states in establishing policy frameworks for science and technology. At the General Conference, committee members stated that the revisions should be based on standards that “reflect the contemporary ethical and regulatory challenges relating to the governance of science and science-society relationship” [1]. Essentially, revisions to the original text are to reflect “today’s concerns about science in relation to society,” as many of these concerns have changed in the past 40 years [2]. UNESCO called for advice and comments regarding the revision, inviting a geographically diverse set of stakeholders to contribute suggestions for changes to the original text.

The Director-General prepared a preliminary study that outlines the new developments in the scientific community that motivated the revision. The preliminary study states that there have been major changes in science and general ethical frameworks since 1974. Issues such as gender equity and public participation have become more significant in the past 40 years and should be addressed in the revision. Other notable changes in the scientific community include: the internationalization of new research projects that are more complex and require greater investments; the emergence of new methods to disseminate scientific information; and the effects of globalization, commercial pressures, and increased institutional competition on the scientific community [3]. According to the preliminary study, all of these changes in the scientific world confirm that the mechanisms for implementing ethical principles cannot be the same as they were decades ago. The preliminary report also discusses the suggestion of creating an entirely new Recommendation in light of these changes. It dismisses this prospect by stating that the creation of a new Recommendation is unnecessary, as “none of the instruments on science ethics and science policies adopted since 1974 renders the 1974 Recommendation redundant or obsolete,” and the Recommendation has an “enduring value” for science policies in member states [3].  Therefore, the report contends that a revision, rather than an entirely new document, is more practical and beneficial for member states and the scientific community.

UNESCO invites comments for the revision until November 1, 2014. Comments should be sent to recommendation.comment(at) The entire revision process is set to occur between the years 2014 and 2017, with the majority of online consultation with stakeholders occurring in the years 2014-2015. The revised text will be presented for government consideration at UNESCO’s 39th General Conference [2].

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This article is part of the Summer 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.