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High Ethical Standards Needed for Open Global Science, Says AAAS President

AAAS President Steven Chu, left, and AAAS CEO Sudip Parikh spoke to press on the opening day of the AAAS Annual Meeting. | Neil Orman/AAAS

A strong set of professional ethical standards can help scientists tackle immense global challenges from climate change to coronavirus, said American Association for the Advancement of Science President Steven Chu.

At a press breakfast on the opening day of the AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle, Chu said that “the vast majority of scientists are deeply ethical.” However, rising concerns about research espionage and conflicts of interest have made some universities and labs in the United States and other countries reluctant to collaborate with international researchers.

Chu, the co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics and U.S. Secretary of Energy from January 2009 to April 2013, said these pressures make it essential that AAAS and other scientific institutions “encourage a very high standard of ethics to guarantee a free and open discussion” among global scientists.

A commitment to ethics could help keep U.S. institutions from “going overboard” in barring international collaborations or turning away foreign researchers, he noted. “American science wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for immigrants.”

Sudip Parikh, participating in his first Annual Meeting as AAAS CEO, said it was opportunities like the chance to strengthen an evolving culture of scientific ethics that brought him to AAAS on Jan. 6.

“This is a time of amazing advances and yet we see that there are still people who believe the Earth is flat, we still see people who believe that vaccines are toxic, we see that it takes horrific images like wildfires in Australia to make people look at the data about climate change,” said Parikh, who also serves as executive publisher of the Science family of journals. “AAAS has to be involved in making sure that the hard-fought lessons that we’ve learned … are brought to that global scientific culture.”

Chu is the William R. Kenan, Jr. professor of physics and professor of molecular & cellular physiology in the Medical School at Stanford University. He will deliver the AAAS President’s Address Thursday evening 5:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, an address that will be livestreamed.


[Associated image credit: Neil Orman/AAAS]