Programme / Civic Duty and Responsibility of Scientists

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Day 1

Wednesday / 20 NOV

9:00 - 10:30

Special session:
Civic Duty and Responsibility of Scientists
Organised by:  World Science Forum
Venue: Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Large Lecture Hall

Currently, one emphasis for science is towards professional responsibility within the narrow constraints of the subject including extensive, often technical discussions, on “correct” measurement and reporting standards.
These “internal”, self-reflexive responsibilities are only one aspect. Scientific research goes much further influencing society, informing policy or building the basis for technology that requires a careful cost/benefit analysis. For example, genetic screening can lead to identifying rare diseases but at the same time also raises serious ethical concerns.
Thus, there are inevitably “external” responsibilities to wider society that enables science through public funds in the first place.
This gives rise to the concept of the “civic duty of scientists” who are not just conducting technically accurate research but are also part of society and therefore bear wider societal responsibility for the consequences of their studies. As such, scientists have a civic duty for the scope and impact of their work and cannot simply conduct naïve research without regard for external responsibility. Consequently, outreach and educating the public may become a moral imperative for scientists who, unfortunately, are often not trained for this complex nexus of policymaking, advertisement, and public relations.

In this panel discussion, we look at the intricate interplay of internal and external responsibilities of science and the consequences for the individual scientist along with the following key questions:

1: What is the scope and limitation of external responsibility for scientists?
2: How can scientists stem the tide against post-truth modes of communication? Or to put it provocatively, do scientists need to be trained as actors and in polemics to have a chance to survive in the communication jungle of a post-factual, populist landscape?
3: What is the correct training to ensure scientists are effective in the public arena?
4: How can institutions support and foster a culture of civic duty among scientists?

These abstract notions will be illustrated in the areas of state-of-the-art research in urban health (Prof. Tolullah Oni), sustainable energy production (Prof. Michael Saliba) and climate change (Prof. Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, Coordinating Lead Author in the Nobel Peace Prize-Winning IPCC 2007).
These research areas are widely visible and therefore public outreach, defending the scientific method and refuting irrationality is of particular importance.

The expected results from this panel are to introduce the concept of civic duty of scientists who conduct accurate research but are also part of the larger society. Thus, civic duty of scientists needs to be part of the curriculum from the very beginning. This is true especially for younger scientists.