Programme / Thematic Sessions IV. c. Human Right to Science

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Day 3

Friday / 22 NOV

17:00 - 18:30

Thematic session:
Thematic Sessions IV. c. Human Right to Science
Organised by:  American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Venue: Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Small Lecture Hall

The human right to science is recognised in two international documents: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966, Article 15). The right to science should encompass freedom to do research, the right to share knowledge, the right to benefit from science and open access to science. While the ICESCR has been ratified by about 170 countries worldwide, there is a lack of agreement regarding what exactly the right to science means, and there are no guidelines on how governments should report to the UN about what they are doing to implement the right to science. Drawing up the relevant guidelines is a politically sensitive issue.


The stakeholders of the right to science include scientists, indigenous groups, citizens (taxpayers) and consumers of scientific products. The right to science means access to science as a whole, including the applications of science, the knowledge and information on which the applications are based, the scientific literature, the data as well as the samples, materials and subjects of study. These should be viewed as points on a continuum. As we move from applications to samples and materials on the scale, both the risks and the responsibilities increase. It should not be up to governments to decide where individuals are on this access scale.


The American Association for the Advancement of Science conducted surveys with US-based focus groups, via a global online questionnaire, and has also reached out to the national science academies with a survey. The AAAS found that respondents identified ten main benefits of science. Respondents from the US-based focus groups named the improvement of health and health care as the number one benefit of their field, regardless of whether they worked in biology or other fields (for example, engineering). In the global questionnaire the AAAS found that the top five areas in which governments are expected to contribute to the right to science include: i) increased funding; ii) adequate science education for the public; iii) promotion of a positive view of science; iv) open access to information; and v) promotion and protection of academic freedom. In a national context, the actors that can bring together science and human rights are the national science academies and ‘young academies’.


The InterAcademy Partnership conducted a survey on the right to science with national academies and 44 young academies. They found that the right to science is both little known and is perceived to be at the core of the mission of the academies. Governmental relations is a key concern; however, national academies and their governments often have fractious relationships.  


Rapporteur: Éva Dékány, Postdoctoral Researcher, Research Institute for Linguistics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences