Dr Balázs Lengyel
The Ethics of Science Funding Keynote Lecture and Plenary Session have collected experts who have outstanding experience and responsibility in coordinating how government money is spent on research.
During the session, József Pálinkás, host of the session, past President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has opened an interesting poll. 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 to talk about related ethical questions.
In her keynote lecture, France Córdova, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) gave an excellent introduction into the principles and practice of ethical science funding at NSF. Their guidelines of responsible and ethical conduct includes rigor and integrity, peer review, protection of intellectual property and fair treat of students and colleagues. Dr. Córdova highlighted that ethical science funding is important to enable research, collect best practices, effective information sharing and to create a wide impact of research on society and identified three pillars. The first pillar is identifying the role of NSF that is achieved by working with stakeholders like National Academies of Sciences and also a the wider scientific community. NSF is producing 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 that are of extreme importance. A good example is “AI and Society”, a collaborative effort between social and computational sciences, in which big companies and small startup firms are involved to understand social challenges of AI and create a safe and trustworthy 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 ethical workforce includes funds to students covering all stages of study, a new computer science program that is available for all K12 students in the US and in which specific modules focus on ethical use of technology. NSF is participating in the work of various national and international institutions such as the White House, the OECD, the Global Research Council to create an ethical environment for all in science.
Bonginkosi Nzimande, Minister, Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology summarized his contribution to the Plenary session in three key points. First, the determination of which ethical consideration drives science should be done in an inclusive way. A common understanding of ethical conduct is needed into which society should be included. Funders cannot define alone what is ethical, the voices of those who lag 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 for regular independent assessment, and for 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 that hinder 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 the wellbeing of humanity and sustainable development but it has lost public trust. In order to gain trust back, curiosity-driven basic research must be transparent and accountable. Communication between scientists and the society and with companies must be improved in both basic and mission-oriented science. In Japan, inclusive and unbiased disaster response is a prior area of scientific efforts to retrieve 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 create drug monopoly for companies for 20 years, which can keep drug prices up and thus access to drugs it is not available 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: supporting R&D and supporting the public to get access to expensive drugs. The recommendations to address this problem are: attach public interest conditions to drug monopoly, increase transparency, favor accessibility in case of publicly funded drug IPs, delink drug prices from research costs.