UNESCO works to spread peace through international cooperation in education, the sciences and culture. These efforts require cooperation among politicians, scientists, policy-makers, journalists, and the general public. To ensure that it can develop sound and effective programs, it is also necessary for UNESCO to examine ethical issues in science and technology and make necessary recommendations.
In 1974, UNESCO published the first Recommendation on the Status of Scientific Researchers, which addressed essential principles, such as the responsibilities of scientists and the need for public access to science. However, in the subsequent decades, science and technology advanced so rapidly that these guidelines began to risk becoming outdated. Subsequent recommendations addressed such issues as bioethics, but it was not until 2017 that an updated Recommendation on the Status of Scientific Researchers was adopted. The key updates to the Recommendation can be read in a PDF available on the UNESCO website.
Not surprisingly, the updated Recommendation emphasizes the ethical responsibilities of individual scientists as well as the need for robust ethics oversight by institutions and governments. Most importantly, the updated Recommendation highlights the fact that everyone has “the right to share in scientific advancement and its benefits” (as stated in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
While oversight and the establishment of ethics boards is generally beyond the scope of what most scientists do on a daily basis, it is important, from time to time, for all scientists to consider the values that should be shared by all scientists around the world.
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