World Conference on Science adopts declaration

From: AMcAuliffe (
Date: Tue Jul 06 1999 - 09:59:52 EDT

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World Conference on Science adopts declaration

Budapest, Hungary, July 2 - The World Conference on Science ended its
six-day meeting by adopting a Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific
Knowledge, as well as a Science Agenda - Framework for Action to
implement the principles of the Declaration. The adopted Declaration is a
political commitment to wide-ranging principles for promoting and carrying out
science and technology in the long term. With the Framework for Action, the
Declaration gives guidance - with concrete proposals - to orient policy on
crucial issues in science on the eve of the 21st century.

By adopting the Declaration, national delegations gave their political
commitment to three major, over-arching principles to guide science
policy: science for knowledge/knowledge for progress, science for peace and
science for development. Of these three, by far the most attention was devoted
to science for development. "Today more than ever, science and its applications
are indispensable for development," says the Declaration. And to foster this, it
emphasises the need for investment in science education and scientific research,
both by the private and public sectors. Above all, says the Declaration, "there
is a responsibility of the developed world to
enhance partnership activities in science with developing countries and
countries in transition."

While the benefits of science for development are now obvious, the
Declaration points out that "most of these benefits are unevenly distributed, as
a result of structural asymmetries among countries, regions and social groups
and between the sexes." Through the Declaration, governments agree there is a
need to promote more equitable access to science and to the benefits it brings,
with greater involvement of girls and women. In particular, it says, "it is
essential that the fundamental role played by women in the application of
scientific development to food production and health care be fully recognised,
and efforts made to strengthen their understanding of scientific advances in
this area. It is on this platform that science education, communication and
popularisation need to be built."

The Declaration is careful to emphasise that, while science has great
potential for good, it can also affect quality of life, whether through
environmental degradation, exclusion or the invention and use of weapons of war.
This is why it stresses the need for ethical principles. "Scientific research
and the use of scientific knowledge should respect human rights and the dignity
of human beings," it says, "in accordance with the Universal Declaration on
Human Rights and in the light of the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome
and Human Rights."

The Declaration also aims to sensitise stakeholders in science to the
barriers "which have precluded the full participation of other groups, of both
sexes, including disabled people, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities."
And, if adopting the Declaration provides the political fuel, it is the Science
agenda - framework for action that shows the itinerary. The issue of inequality
in science is taken up in the Framework of action, particularly in the section
on follow-up, which lists concrete actions. Regarding gender inequality in the
field of science, the Framework calls on all stakeholders in science to consider
a list of priority issues. These include promoting the access of girls and women
to science education, improving conditions of recruitment, weeding out gender
stereotypes and discrimination and establishing an international network of
women scientists. Similarly, the Framework aims to sensitise stakeholders to
their duties to remove barriers to other disadvantaged groups, whether in
education or research.

The Framework for Action expects governments to commit adequate funds
over the long term for science and technology education and research. And while
the adopted Framework does not give target figures, during the Conference,
UNESCO Director General, Federico Mayor, had suggested a minimum target of 0.3
percent or 0.4 percent of Gross Domestic Product from a country's own funds.
Countries that invest most earmark between 2.5 percent and 3 percent.

A Framework for Action of this kind is necessarily broad, but it
contains more tangible recommendations - with some measurable effects - than
some sceptics had expected. Without denying the positive contribution of the
private sector, says the action plan, governments should commit public funds,
especially to basic research in areas that are relevant to national and regional
needs. The Framework also underlines the urgency of pooling research funds and
skills to tackle global issues, especially those concerning freshwater
availability, renewable energies, environmental issues and global warming. Where
a particular environmental issue is shared by bordering countries, they should
work together, says the Framework.

Where a country has few scientists in an area, there are many mechanisms, like
networks and exchanges schemes, as well as international joint research
projects, that can help create critical mass. Meanwhile, the Declaration refers
to a recent G8 country initiative to reduce the debt burden on developing
countries as being "conducive to a joint effort by the developing and developed
countries" to fund science.

The Framework for Action aims to sensitise stakeholders in science to
the crucial roles of science education and communication about science in
promoting both understanding and participation of issues that increasingly
affect us all.

"Governments should accord highest priority to the improvement of
science education at all levels" says the Framework for Action, "with particular
attention to the elimination of the gender bias and bias against
disadvantaged groups, raising public awareness of science and fostering its

It suggests setting up "an international programme on Internet-enabled
science and vocational education and teaching" to "bring high-quality science
education to remote locations." It also calls for more and better facilities for
training journalists and communicators, on the one hand, while including science
communication training as part of a scientist's education, on the other.

The Framework also emphasises the increasingly important role that
scientists have in advising governments on policy. "Scientists and scientific
bodies should consider it an important responsibility to provide independent
advice to the best of their knowledge," it says. The document also recommends
that UNESCO publish a World Technology Report as a companion to its present
World Science Report, "in order to provide a balanced world opinion on the
impact of technology on social systems and culture."

In the new context for science at the turn of the century, universities
have also joined the economic playing field, joining the trend to patent
commercially relevant results. The complex issues of intellectual
property rights that commercial interests raise, also get attention, both those
inherent in new discoveries and those inherent in traditional knowledge. The
Declaration calls for "a need to further develop appropriate national legal
frameworks to accommodate the specific requirements of developing countries and
traditional knowledge, sources and products."

At the same time, the Framework for Action emphasises that access to
data and information is essential for scientific progress. It calls on "an
appropriate international legal framework," such as the World Intellectual
Property Organisation (WIPO) to work with international organisations to
"constantly address the question of knowledge monopolies." Meanwhile the World
Trade Organisation should define tools "aimed at financing the advancement of
science in the South with the full involvement of the scientific community."
UNESCO and ICSU are asked to play "a catalytic role" by improving data
compatibility and easing access to scientific knowledge.

It is also in this field of the commercialisation of the fruits of
scientific research, particularly in the biological sciences, that ethical
issues come to the surface. "Ethics and responsibility should be an integral
part of the education and training of all scientists," says the Framework for
Action. "Young scientists should be appropriately encouraged to respect and
adhere to the basic ethical principles and responsibilities of science," it
continues. Here, UNESCO's World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge
and Technology (COMEST), with ICSU's Standing Committee on Responsibility and
Ethics of Sciences (SCRES) have a role to play in follow-up.

Developing countries, particularly those with rich biodiversity and
traditional knowledge built up over countless generations on how to use plants
and animal products for therapeutic purposes, need special protection from
exploitation by wealthy industrial companies from the North. But also under
threat is the extinction of the complex systems of knowledge within which these
natural products were derived and within which they are used. "Countries should
promote better understanding and use of traditional knowledge systems," says the
Framework, "instead of focusing only on extracting the elements for their
perceived utility to the science and technology system." The Framework envisages
both governmental and non-governmental organisations playing a role in
conserving these traditional knowledge systems.

The Framework for Action envisages several roles for UNESCO and ICSU -
its partner in convening the Conference - in the follow-up to the
Conference. One of them is to act as a clearing house to coordinate
implementation of the Framework for Action.

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