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Guidelines agreed for new social contract

The World Conference on Science closed in Budapest last Thursday (1 July) with 1,800 delegates from more than 150 countries agreeing on principles and guidelines for implementing what the organizers described as ‘new social contract’ between science and society.

Included in the specific suggestions were that countries should provide increased support for the networking of graduate and postgraduate institutions, that the training of scientific journalists and communicators should be enhanced, and that “adequate participatory mechanisms should be instituted to facilitate democratic debate on scientific policy issues”.

One point of agreement was that ‘ethics and social responsibility’ should be an integral part of the education of all scientists. Existing panels in Unesco and the International Council for Science (ICSU), the co-organizers of the conference, have been given responsibility for following up on this issue.

Another proposal was that campaigns should be launched at national, regional and global levels to raise awareness of the contributions of women to science and technology, and that an international network of women scientists should be set up.

Both of these ideas figure among a set of recommendations intended to enhance the position of women in science that were adopted after vigorous lobbying by women's groups (see opposite).

The guidelines also encourage “special efforts” to ensure the full participation of disadvantaged groups — implicitly including the disabled — in science and technology. Such groups would be represented in policy-making bodies and forums.

The conference organizers had taken care to avoid explicitly committing participants to calls for any increased funding, not only from the industrialized to the developing nations, but also by developing nations themselves.

There was resistance to calls from some nations, in particular delegates from some Muslim states, that all countries should aim eventually to spend one per cent of their gross national product on research and development, a target that had been agreed at the last global science meeting, held 20 years ago in Vienna (see Nature 400, 8; 1999).

However, the final conference documents did agree in general that “innovative and cost-effective mechanisms” for funding science should be examined for implementation by “relevant institutions at the regional and international levels”.

The conclusions of the six-day meeting were expressed in two documents, Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge, and Science Agenda: Framework for Action, known as the Declaration and Framework respectively.

Both were adopted unanimously by the final plenary session after several months of consultation with the member states of Unesco and other organizations, and a hectic two days of final drafting.

The first is a general statement of principles about the importance of science, as well as the need to respect a new ‘contract’ in which society pledges to continue to support science, while in return scientists agree to accept and respect their responsibilities.

The Declaration urges “the nations and the scientists of the world” to “acknowledge the urgency of using knowledge from all fields of science in a responsible manner to address human needs and aspirations without misusing this knowledge”. It also says that helping to create a critical mass of national research in the sciences through regional and international cooperation is especially important for small states and least developed countries.

The second document is intended to provide guidelines through which the principles in the first document can be implemented by national governments, international organizations, professional scientific bodies — indeed all those keen to promote a responsible relationship between science and society.

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Guidelines agreed for new social contract. Nature 400, 100 (1999).

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