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International Forum of Young Scientists
Budapest, Hungary, 23-24 June 1999

Statement

Table of Contents

Preamble

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On 23 rd and 24 h June 1999 150 young scientists (average age 25) from 57 countries met at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at the International Forum of Young Scientists, a satellite conference of the UNESCO-ICSU World Conference on Science. After two days of discussions the participants adopted the following statement, which they wish to submit to the World Conference on Science.

I.    Summary of major recommendations

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The participants of the Forum established the International Forum of Young Scientists as a continuous platform to discuss general issues and challenges to science. They hope that the World Conference on Science will recognize this new body, and request that UNESCO and ICSU involve the Forum in their ongoing programmes.

The participants of the Forum also recommend that:

  • Scientists increase their responsibility to inform the public openly about research and its wider implications and therefore learn communication skills;
  • Science education at all levels be strengthened and scientists collaborate with educators;
  • Education presents science in a cross-disciplinary manner;
  • Ethical aspects be a part of all scientific undertaking and that a special focus on ethics be included in all education programmes;
  • Scientists take full responsibility to provide help to the scientific communities in less developed countries and urge their govermnents to support long-term grants for fundamental research to maintain sustainable growth;
  • Scientists assume increased responsibility for environment and development programmes;
  • Young scientists participate in decisions made about science.
II.    Forum report and detailed recommendations

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Introduction

 

         Let us imagine that distinguished scientists gathered in 1899 at a conference in order to discuss the perspectives of science in the next century. The optimism would have been high - the belief in the omnipotence of science unshaken, the march towards an always happier world, aided by science and technology uninhibited. These scientists could not have imagined the discoveries which were to follow soon, which pulled every firm ground from beneath their feet and which led to the creation of totally new areas of science. They could not have imagined the two terrible world wars in which science played a role and which raised earlier unknown questions of conscience for scientists. They could not have anticipated the unsolvable challenges posed by envirorunental pollution, overpopulation and neither could they have predicted the hitherto unprecedented presence of science and technology in every nook and cranny of life. Probably only a genius could see the coming developments in aerospace technology, life sciences, information and communication technologies. These few introductory sentences should warn us that looking at the events in a historical perspective, our ability to foresee trends and developments is very limited and must be treated with great care. What follows are the thoughts of young scientists, who met at the end of the twentieth century to reflect about science and its social implications as reflected in the Draft Declaration on Science and the Science Agenda and Framework for Action of the World Conference on Science.

1.   Science and society

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In a democracy people have the right to contribute to the decisions of society. However, to make their decisions, they need information. Science can greatly help society to provide much of this information. Therefore the public must be informed openly about research and its wider implications. Science also has to meet and listen to people's needs and each country's priorities. Therefore the scientific community should have the right to discuss research budget distribution with governments.

Education of communication skills will help scientists fulfil their responsibility to provide information to other members of society. However, one should never forget that science is only one voice of those formulating the common will.

Although it is important that a scientist has a social conscience, the ability of a scientist to increase happiness is limited. A scientist or an engineer can address or solve only problems of scientific or technological nature, whereas social scientists can propose only specific policies or identify problems, which, in many cases can indeed alleviate the hardships of people. Nevertheless the other sources of human misery are beyond the reach of the traditional domain of science. This is the domain of value systems of a society which only the society as a whole can change. Science is embedded in a social environment and cannot. alone. bring about change. Ultimately, science is not the only form of human knowledge. Traditional forms of knowledge are equally valuable.

The bond between peace-efforts and the scientific community should be strengthened. The year 2000, the International Year of Culture of Peace, marks a good opportunity for this new commitment.

   
2.    The relationship between science and education

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Developing countries' scientists should encourage governments to pay more attention to wider access of primary and continuous education. A holistic approach to education can bring an early understanding of science and its impact on the environment, whereas an illiterate society can hardly understand the work of scientists.

In institutions of higher education, a deterioration of standards can be observed. University staff are judged almost exclusively on the basis of scientific work. Good teaching is often not rewarded in career tenns, and the real losers of this process are the students. Educational activities have to be valued more. Institutions should ensure that all members of the academic community engaged in education are provided with appropriate training, resources and support.  There is an increasing economic pressure on most universities. In many countries universities, in an attempt to be more efficient, are being reorganised along the lines of companies. Although there are a few positive effects of this, the main consequences are that expenditures are cut so that staff is reduced, while the number of students is largely increased. Wider access to higher education, however, should be accompanied with efforts to maintain standards.

   
3.     Science education

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More serious efforts are certainly needed to make the scientific results marketable, and inform the public more adequately. We believe that scientists must accept the essential moral obligation to spend a considerable amount of time as educators and/or collaborate with educators in order to raise the level of scientific and technological literacy, starting with the education of young children in schools. However, the independence of the educational system and educators must be preserved and appreciated.  The entrance of new generations to science is highly random and too heavily influenced by subjective factors. Only a few systematic attempts are made to draw the best and most capable young students to scientific research. Research curricula generally do not build expertise to learn how to make even simple research agendas or experiments. Special courses should be established on "How to select a new research topic", etc. High school student research training programmes should be more widely developed to utilise this highly influential life period to build a long-lasting and deep commitment to scientific research. Precollege students should be encouraged to participate in International Science Fairs and other such programmes. This will enable them to engage in independent research and develop necessary communication skills. The established scientific community should assume mentorship roles and regard pre-college students as a growing population of curious, young scientists.
   
4.     Deterioration of standards in science

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The constant fight for grants, and the administration of small, fragmented grants, cause scientists to spend more time with paperwork and less .Yith true scientific work. There is too much competition in certain branches of science today. The well-known saying "publish or perish" expresses the pressure to produce a large number of partly irrelevant publications instead of taking time to think more profoundly. In addition, the exponential rise in the number of publications makes it very difficult for potential readers to filter out useful information. Evaluation based on the number of publications has a further undesirable side-effect : it hampers the free flow of information because of the fear of priority debates.

Another problem is the increasing compartmentalization of thought. With the astonishing degree of specialization. most scientists become experts in a very narrow field, and are often unable to think in a broader context. Thinking about the whole can lead to deeper insights. The aforementioned pressures, however, make such an approach difficult. We hope that in the future the importance of interdisciplinary research will increase and the holistic approach to problem solving will gain ground against purely analytical thinking.

   
5.     Ethical considerations

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Science bears a general responsibility for the well-being of humanity. Every scientist must have a constant awareness of the possible consequences of her/his, research. A full and open dialogue involving various sectors of society is necessary to consider the consequences of experiments like human cloning and genetic engineering before their initiation. More forceful legal and moral safeguards should be worked out to prevent unethical practice and misuse of science for the development of mass destruction weapons, and for experiments which disregard the dignity of human persons or animals. A special education on ethics should be included in all education curricula. Scientific information has to be handed over to the public and should not be held back for economic or political reasons. Science is embedded in society so that scientific ethics is inseparable from the ethics of the society as a whole. We expect and encourage the global scientific community to try to find a consensus about the self-regulation of science. In agreement with a fortner version of the Draft Declaration on Science of the World Conference on Science, we strongly support the establishment of a scientific Hippocrates oath.
    
6.    Science and equal opportunities

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We recognize and appreciate the growing demand against the discrimination of women. It is also necessary for different ethnic, national and other minorities, who are victims of discrimination to have equal chances and broadened opportunities in education and science. We encourage education policy-makers to do their best to ensure social justice and encourage women to join scientific research. However, we want to protect the autonomy of internal scientific standards and disciplinary structure of sciences against direct political and social influence, regardless of the good and noble intentions of policy-makers.
   
7.     Science and development

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Science can help to reduce the gap between the developed and developing countries by ensuring that scientific information flows freely and to all parts of the world. The Intemet plays an important role in this, although more attention needs to be paid to ensure that its reach is both geographically and linguistically extended. Financial support for science in developing countries needs to be enhanced and more cooperation encouraged. Scientists have an important role to play in protecting the environment and scientific projects should both respect the requirements as well as contribute to sustainable development. Scientists should support research on appropriate technologies. Traditional knowledge should not be rejected by scientific knowledge, particularly in the area of national resource management. Care should be taken to protect the intellectual property rights of people providing indigenous forms of knowledge.

While we fully support the free circulation of scientists we recognize that this makes the so-called "brain-drain" inevitable. Brain-drain has often been referred to a negative phenomenon in which scientific talents would be permanently siphoned away from poorer to richer countries. The positive effects need, however, also to be emphasised: many persons from developing countries educated in the West (i) return to their native land and hence raise the level of local education there; (ii) if they remain abroad. they often represent the interest and needs of their native country, keep their contacts, and thus help improve the situation in the native country itself. Being aware of these positive effects, we stress, that to encourage a greater repatriation of these scientists, a special home-coming grant system is needed.

   
8.    Career prospects for young scientists

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In market-based economies, relatively young people can reach high positions with high responsibility. In the hierarchic world of science, however, a person under the age of 40 rarely gets into a leading position. This endangers the preservation of the freedom of research for young scientists. Young people with fresh ideas should be included more into the decision-making processes and new, less rigid structures should be found. Science as a profession is often financially not attractive and there is very rarely a satisfactory job security. Consequently, young talented people rarely stay in science once they find a more attractive job. This is also a crucial factor affecting the quality of science, when science is unable to hold on to its brightest talents.
   
9.     Fundamental, applied and military research

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A significant portion of science is funded today from private sources, which are, understandably, more interested in direct applications than long term basic research. It is very important, however, that govermnents keep supporting longer term (i.e.: longer than an election cycle) fimdamental research and install a legal framework which promotes the mobilization of private fimding for this purpose. We believe that such long-term projects can contribute to sustainable growth.

Although military R&D serves certain (real, imagined or artificially created) needs of society, we believe that there is need for companies or govermnent institutions to help transfer these results to the civil sphere.

 

III.   Mechanism for implementing the Recommendations of the Forum

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Students and scientists in the beginning of their careers have a fresh and unburdened attitude towards the ethical and moral issues facing science. Therefore we, the participants of the International Forum of Young Scientists, established the International Forum of Young Scientists as a continuous platform to discuss general issues and challenges facing science. The Forum will maintain an Intemet site, where ideas about the development and contexts of science could be posted and discussed. The Forum will analyze the possibility to establish a Journal for Young Scientists initially as an Intemet site. The Forum will have regular meetings at various places of the world. We ask the secretariat of the Budapest International Forum of Young Scientist as be the Secretariat of the new body which task they can pass to the organizers of the next meeting. The Secretariat would be responsible for propagating the relevant proposals of the Forum to relevant decision making bodies and to the general public. We ask the World Conference on Science recognize this Forum, and request that UNESCO and ICSU involve the Forum in their on-going programmes.

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