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 popularisation."
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.