Scientific researchers: meeting the ethical and regulatory challenges of research today

UKNC policy brief series

The UKNC has shared with UNESCO its advice for a revision to its ‘Recommendation on the Status of Scientific Researchers’ introduced in 1974 to help Member States formulate and execute ethical policy frameworks for science research.

UNESCO is currently consulting with its Member States and expert bodies like the Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) on how the Recommendation can be revised to meet modern day challenges in scientific research. The UK’s contribution to the consultation is based on expert advice from a diverse task group of UK-based social and natural scientists from the third, public and private sectors.

The UK submission highlights how the environment that scientific researchers are operating in today has changed significantly since 1974. Specifically, it cites the increased potential for ‘dual use’ of science (where research could be used for hostile as well as peaceful purposes) due to developments in robotics and data analysis as well as increasing environmental concerns. The policy brief also look at a changing security environment where the Cold War environment of the 1970s has given way to today’s disaggregated security threats. The policy brief’s central recommendation is that the ethical framework that underpins research – whether that be in the social, natural or applied sciences – must apply to the whole scientific eco-system, rather than just the scientific researcher alone.

The UKNC’s policy brief, The ‘S’ in UNESCO concluded that UNESCO could have a greater impact in science with its limited financial resources by focussing on supporting science, technology and innovation in Member States through policy, governance and capacity building rather than directly delivering science programmes. The brief urged UNESCO to focus in particular on establishing frameworks and guidance for governance and the science-policy-society interface, and for institutional capacity building. The UKNC argues that a UNESCO Recommendation on the Status of Scientific Researchers fits squarely within that remit but it must be revised in order to remain relevant.

UNESCO is currently reviewing comments on the Recommendation from its Member States as well as from discussions in IBC, IGBC and COMEST. It plans to share the first report on its consultation on the Recommendation with Member States in 2016.