Science Breakfast: Science and Ethics

Hosted by the Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Research, France


Abstract

Over the last 150 years, life expectancy has increased threefold; it takes only a couple hours to reach any capital city in Europe; you can have a real-time video chat with your friends on the other side of the world for free. Scientific results do not only transform our economies, they respond to societal expectations. They are considered part of the improved living conditions expected by citizens and are expected to contribute to the public good. What does science represent for public benefit and what ideals should we take into account to define the course of researchers’ actions and decisions? Should scientific results with a strong societal impact be made readily available?
The virtues of the scientist have long been regarded as a model for citizens. Yet there is now an urgent need to sensitize us to responsible research methods. These methods are concerned with the way we practice our profession in our work environment where excellence is now the universal master catchword. How to reconcile the need to work "collectively" with the individual desire to be recognized? How to deal with co-authorship? How to avoid getting trapped by conflicts of interest, to ensure the reproducibility of results, and access to data sources?
Moreover, ethics does not only apply to the activity of research itself; but applies to the research environment as well. At the political level, it seems more and more difficult to resist the short-term and narrowness of programs aimed at the production of innovations when financial constraints come into play and funding and research policies seem to favour applied research.
How to ensure that the researcher has the vast freedom to develop his own ideas in an unconstrained creative space? How to cope with the pressure of the job when one has to make constant efforts to obtain funding, to publish continuously, etc.?
With the internationalization of research, universal ethical questions are brought up in all aspects of a researcher’s life: the aims of one’s research, the context that frames this research, the policies to which it belongs, the representations of the world it promotes, the beliefs it can question, the hopes and fears it can induce.


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