Programme / Plenary Session II. The Ethics of Science Funding

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Day 2

Thursday / 21 NOV

15:00 - 16:30

Plenary session:
Plenary Session II. The Ethics of Science Funding
Venue: Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Ceremonial Hall

The Ethics of Science Funding Keynote Lecture and Plenary Session collected experts who have outstanding experience in and responsibility for coordinating how government money is spent on research.


During the session, József Pálinkás, host of the session and past president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, initiated an interesting survey. The question was whether peer review can be combined with lottery in selecting research proposals to fund. Half of the audience supported the idea, and half of it voted no, a result that nicely illustrates the different views on funding and the importance of talking about related ethical questions.


In her keynote lecture, France Córdova, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), gave an excellent introduction to the principles and practice of ethical science funding at NSF. Their guidelines of responsible and ethical conduct include rigor and integrity, peer review, protection of intellectual property and fair treatment of students and colleagues. Dr. Córdova highlighted that ethical science funding is important in enabling research, collecting best practices, effective information sharing and in creating a wide impact in terms of research on society. Dr Córdova identified three pillars, the first of which is identifying the role of NSF, which is achieved by working with stakeholders like the National Academies of Sciences and also the wider scientific community. The NSF is producing a report on scientific production, which does not only correspond to the US but has a global reach as well. The second pillar is funding basic research, which is of extreme importance. A good example is ‘AI and Society’, a collaborative effort between the social and computational sciences, in which big companies and small startup firms are involved in understanding the social challenges of AI and creating a safe and reliable AI. The third pillar is public engagement inspiration of the next generation in providing access to science and inviting the new generation to participate in science. The training of an ethical workforce includes providing funds to students to cover all stages of study and a new computer science programme that is available for all K12 students in the US and in which specific modules focus on the ethical use of technology. The NSF is participating in the work of various national and international institutions such as the OECD and the Global Research Council, as well as the White House, to create an ethical environment for all in science.


Bonginkosi Nzimande, Minister, Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, summarised his contribution to the Plenary session in three key points. First, the determination of which ethical considerations drive science should be done in an inclusive way. A common understanding of ethical conduct is needed in which society should be included. Funders cannot alone define what is ethical; the voices of those who are lagging behind must be heard to support peace, global understanding, equality and justice. Second, ethics should be part of research promotion. Third, governments and national funding agencies have to be more open to regular independent assessment and to racial and gender integration.


Mohamed Hassan, President of the World Academy of Sciences, claimed in his talk that global inequalities in science and technology funding and gender bias are the two major obstacles hindering inclusive science. To address these inequalities: government funding in all countries should reach at least 1% of GDP; funds provided to poor countries should support education and research; gender balance should be ensured in proposal selection committees; and innovation capacities must be improved in all countries.


Michinari Hamaguchi, President of the Japan Science and Technology Agency, started his talk by saying that science should aim at the wellbeing of humanity and sustainable development, but that it has lost public trust. In order to gain this trust back, curiosity-driven basic research must be transparent and accountable. Communication between scientists and society and companies must be improved in both basic and mission-oriented science. In Japan, inclusive and unbiased disaster response is a priority area in terms of scientific efforts to regain the trust of society.


Stephanie Annett, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, talked about the issues of drug design funding. Patents in the pharmaceutical industry have created a drug monopoly for companies for twenty years, which keeps drug prices up and, therefore, makes access to drugs unavailable for many in the developing world. However, as Dr Annett claimed, a large share of pharmaceutical R&D is financed by the public, and, thus, governments pay twice: in supporting R&D and supporting the public to allow people access to expensive drugs. The recommendations to address this problem are: attach public interest conditions to the drug monopoly; increase transparency; favour accessibility in the case of publicly-funded drug IPs; decouple drug prices from research costs.


Rapporteur: Balázs Lengyel, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies