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The Social Responsibilities of Scientists and Engineers: A Global Survey


The notion that scientists and engineers have a responsibility to society that goes beyond their responsibilities to the profession is long-standing. Yet, there is no consensus on what the content and scope of social responsibilities are or ought to be. While there is a growing literature concerning the issues encapsulated by the phrase “social responsibility of scientists and engineers,” a review of that literature reveals many and sometimes competing views, and a lack of data to inform the discussion.

This study comprised two core elements, the first being a global survey of scientists and engineers aimed at documenting (1) the views of scientists and engineers on their social responsibilities; (2) the different sources of their beliefs about such responsibilities; and (3) the factors that influence their ability to fulfill their social responsibilities. The survey was designed with the intention of analyzing differences and similarities across a series of demographic variables. The second element built on the findings of the global survey and involved a United States (U.S.) focused qualitative analysis aimed at documenting the views of leading scientists and engineers; instructors in the responsible conduct of research; academics; administrators; and funders of research in science, technology, engineering and math with regard to (1) the social responsibilities of scientists and engineers; (2) the behaviors of scientists and engineers relative to those responsibilities; and (3) mechanisms to support scientists and engineers in fulfilling their responsibilities. The survey findings and qualitative analysis were the compared. 

AAAS launched the survey internationally in 2019, in partnership with 18 scientific and engineering membership organizations, primarily in the United States, and was fielded in the six languages of the United Nations (UN). At the completion of the survey process, there were 4,789 useable, in-scope responses from a sample of 134,388, for a response rate of less than 4%. As a result, the findings cannot be considered representative of the sample frame and the analysis presented in this report is descriptive in nature. A likely response bias is that those who answered the questionnaire were particularly interested in the subject. The distribution of respondents was highly skewed towards older individuals. Yet, the distribution of respondents by other demographic characteristics appears consistent with what is known about the sample frame.

The implementation phase of this project was supported by a grant (#1835290) from the National Science Foundation. Materials posted on this web site are neither endorsed by NSF nor do they necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.

Public Use Data Files


Data Dictionary for Survey Data Public Use File

Webinar Recording

History of the Survey

In 2013, AAAS undertook a preliminary data-gathering initiative. An online questionnaire was broadly distributed to scientists, engineers and health professionals internationally for the purposes of learning their perspectives on the nature and scope of their social responsibilities and to identify any apparent similarities and differences in perspectives according to multiple demographic variables. The questionnaire relied on convenience sampling and, therefore, the results could not be generalized beyond the study sample. Nevertheless, the research did suggest potential research questions for further exploration. Read about the results of this questionnaire in the 2015 report, available here.

With the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and using the results of the questionnaire as guidance, AAAS designed and pre-tested a global survey of scientists and engineers that would enable broad generalization about their views on their social responsibilities. This planning phase involved the development of a statistically rigorous survey instrument, translation of the survey in Arabic, French, Mandarin, Russian, and Spanish, a sampling frame and the development of a clear plan for reaching the broadly international targeted sample. Read about the results of this planning phase in the 2017 report.

 AAAS launched the survey internationally in 2019 with support of the NSF.

The planning phase of this project was supported by a grant (#1540398) from the National Science Foundation. Materials posted on this web site are neither endorsed by NSF nor do they necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.

Advisory Committee - Implementation Phase

  • Melissa Anderson, PhD., Professor, Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development, University of Minnesota
  • Ali Arab, PhD., Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Georgetown University
  • Angela Bielefeldt, PhD., Professor, Environmental Engineering Program, University of Colorado
  • Mary Gray, PhD., Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, American University
  • Frederick Grinnell, PhD., Professor, Department of Cell Biology, University of Texas Southwestern
  • Amane Koizumi, M.D., PhD., Professor, National Institute of Natural Sciences, Japan
  • Ed Lempinen, M.A., Public Information Officer, The World Academy of Sciences
  • Camille Nebeker, PhD., Assistant Professor, School of Medicine - Research Ethics Program, University of California, San Diego
  • Jean Opsomer, PhD., Professor and Chair, Department of Statistics, Colorado State University
  • Michael Stern, PhD., Methodology Fellow, NORC
  • Leiv Sydnes, PhD., Chair, Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in Conduct of Science, International Science Council
  • Sonia Vasconcelos, PhD., Associate Professor, Institute of Medical Biochemistry, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
  • Margaret Weigers Vitullo, PhD., Deputy Director, American Sociological Association

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