On the occasion of the 8th Ordinary Session of the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), held in Bratislava, Slovakia, from 27 to 29 May 2013, Mr Ľudovít Molnár, President of the Slovak Commission for UNESCO, provides his view on ethical issues from climate change to science for sustainable development. The Slovak Commission for UNESCO is co-organizer with UNESCO of the follow-up conference to the 8th Session of COMEST (Bratislava, Slovakia, 30-31 May 2013).
UNESCO: It is for the first time that the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) holds its statutory session in a Central European country. Why did the Slovak Commission for UNESCO invite UNESCO’s Director-General to hold this year’s statutory meeting of COMEST in Bratislava?
Slovakia through the President of the Slovak National Committee for Bioethics, Ms Marta Kollárová, is member of COMEST. The major issues discussed by COMEST are of great importance also to our country.
Slovakia has experienced in its recent history a rapid and radical social change, from the “velvet revolution in 1989” through the creation of an independent state in 1993 to building democratic institutions, market-based economy, and becoming a fully integrated member of the European Union and a member of the globalized world.
Slovakia as an independent State has only 20 years. But people living in this territory have a surprisingly long tradition with science and technology and their positive influence on economic and social development of society. Science and technology depend on education. It is the territory of Slovakia where technical universities have their roots and where one of the first post-secondary technical education institutions was created. In 1762 the empress Maria Theresa established on the territory of Slovakia one of the first technical high schools in the world, which was called “Mining Academy in Banská Štiavnica”. Consequently this academic year we are celebrating more than 350 years of technical high school education.
The Mining Academy with its educational and scientific results had considerably contributed to the economic and social development of the region around Banská Štiavnica. Therefore we have good knowledge and practical experience not only from technical high school education where science and technology play an important role, but also from the utilization of science and technology in the economic and social development of the society as well. Even more, we know very well that the benefit from the science and technology depends highly on the knowledge of the persons in whose hands they are used.
The radical transformations in Slovakia in 1989 and 1993 have influenced in a substantial way all areas of the scientific and technological development, including scientific research and the status of scientific workers, professional training of scientists and scientific education at different levels, application of scientific advances in industry and sustainable human development for the present and future generations. Slovakia enjoys a well-developed and highly professional corpus of scientific researchers who represent a dynamic group of our society. Scientists take an active part in the public debate of scientific issues which have strong ethical implications. Civil society in Slovakia is considered as one of the most active in Central and Eastern Europe. It actively takes part in the discussion of such topics as the use of controversial technological innovations in agriculture that might be detrimental to human health and nature, the impact of new information and communication technologies on building an open democratic society, based on the full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of opinion and expression, free access to information and knowledge.
Slovakia is also concerned with issues of climate change which impact our country’s rich natural diversity that was recognized by UNESCO by inscribing the natural areas of Slovak Carpathian Mountains, Primeval Beech Forests, in the World Heritage List. Therefore the Slovak National Commission is happy to host the 8th Ordinary Session of COMEST that is to finalize its several years’ work on issues laying behind a need to establish a framework of ethical principles and responsibilities for climate change policies in order to find effective global response to the negative effects of climate change, as well as on the questions of science – society relationship in the light of modern global challenges.
The day after the end of the 8th session of COMEST, the Slovak Commission of UNESCO jointly with UNESCO will also hold a two days’ international conference on “Emerging Ethical Issues of Science and Technology” with the participation of the COMEST members and other international experts and representatives of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), who will discuss contribution of science to sustainable development through ensuring the full implementation of the human right to safe drinking water through the use of nanotechnologies in water management, as well as to the right to benefit from scientific progress and its applications.
COMEST is invited to contribute to the on-going consultation process with regard to the desirability of revising and updating the 1974 Recommendation on the Status of Scientific Researchers. Slovakia in its national submission to UNESCO regarding this Recommendation, underlined the continued relevance of the 1974 Recommendation and, at the same time, supported the idea of its revision. Why is the revision necessary and is it the right time for UNESCO to be involved in this process?
We fully support the recommendations made by COMEST with regard to the 1974 Recommendation on the Status of Scientific Researchers. The Recommendation deals with both issues: those related to the ethics of science and technology and those linked with organization of scientific institutions and comprehensive scientific policies. The major ethical principles major ethical principles of the 1974 Recommendation such as non-discrimination, integrity, freedom and autonomy of scientific researchers, and respect for their human rights and fundamental freedoms, are remain highly relevant today.
However today the geopolitical, social and cultural context in which science is exercised is very different from the one in 1974. Globalization of economy and rapid scientific progress raise new challenges and lead to privatization and commercialization of scientific research, putting scientists under increased pressures which were not foreseen in the 1974 Recommendation and which may lead to scientific misconduct and fraud.
Therefore the moment to update and revise the text of the 1974 Recommendation has come. At the same time, it is much easier to reach to a universal agreement on a revised text than to prepare a completely new one. I am also convinced that the ethical principles of science proclaimed in the 1974 Recommendation in order to be respected should have a monitoring mechanism.
This will permit UNESCO to monitor the state of the realization of the right to benefit from scientific progress and its applications in Member States which, in its turn, will contribute to developing international scientific cooperation between developed and developing countries in the interest of sustainable development. Thus the revision of the 1974 Recommendation corresponds to the letter “S” in the title of UNESCO. Slovakia is happy to be associated in this work.