Dozens of prominent scientists from all over the world are calling on the European Commission to support independent science in its next round of science funding, and to ensure maximum transparency and democratic input in deciding funding and research priorities.
The scientists want Europe's next round of public ressearch funding - Framework Programme 7 (2007 to 2013) - to establish broad funding criteria that put public interest ahead of 'wealth creation', and to include ethical and safety considerations before the research is funded. They are demanding a redistribution of the research budget away from industry and technology driven areas like genomics and information technologies towards sustainable agriculture, ecology and energy use in sustainable systems, and holistic health. In particular, they would like to see top priority given to scientists working with local communities to revitalize and protect traditional agricultural and healthcare systems.
The detailed Comment follows. Please add your name and/or your organisation to endorse the comment at https://www.i-sis.org.uk/isp/endorsements/endorsementISP-FP7.php, or see which organisations and individuals have already endorsed the comments at https://www.i-sis.org.uk/isp/endorsements/signed.php.
The Independent Science Panel (ISP), launched 10 May 2003 at a public conference in London, UK, consists of dozens of prominent scientists from all over the world, spanning the disciplines of agroecology, agronomy, biomathematics, botany, chemical medicine, ecology, epidemiology, histopathology, microbial ecology, molecular genetics, nutritional biochemistry, physiology, plant biotechnology, taxonomy, toxicology and virology (https://www.i-sis.org.uk/isp/ISPMembers.php).
They share a deep concern over the commercialisation of genetic modification (GM) and other technologies without the due process of thorough scientific assessment, informed public consultation and public consent; and are dedicated to researching and actively promoting science for a sustainable world through education, advocacy and social engagement.
Science has been playing an increasingly major role in national and international policy decisions that affect not only our everyday lives but also the very survival of our planet. Unfortunately, science has also become more and more closely tied to industrial interests that all too often conflict with public good and public safety.
Science wars are being fought at national and international forums over global warming, nuclear wastes, industrial pollution, and GM crops in the name of national competitiveness, national security, free trade and feeding the world.
There has never been a greater need to re-establish independent, disinterested science that can both protect the public from the negative impacts of emerging technologies and genuinely deliver a safe, secure, equitable and sustainable world. This presents the European Union (EU) Framework 7 programme for funding scientific research with challenges and opportunities in equal measure.
The ISP propose the following measures for the EU Framework 7 funding programme to go some way towards meeting the challenges and opportunities.
1. Establishing broad funding criteria that put public interest ahead of wealth creation
The following explicit criteria should be used both in setting priorities for areas of research, and in funding specific programmes and projects:
All too often, questions on safety, in particular, are being raised after the research has been done, and worse, after the technology has been commercialised. At that stage, it is very difficult to reach a consensus on account of the large amount of investment at stake. Recent cases in point include the safety of electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones and masts, and the safety of GM crops.
2. Ensuring the greatest transparency, independence and public participation in deciding research priorities
Committees deciding funding priorities and areas must include representatives of appropriate public interest organisations.
No member of any committee making decisions on funding priorities and areas should have, or should recently have had, a financial interest in the outcome of the decision being made.
More than that, the membership of such committees must include scientists with relevant expertise who are not involved directly or indirectly in the research area to be funded.
3. Ensuring the greatest transparency and independence in deciding research funding
No member of any committee making funding decisions on specific projects should have current or recent-past financial or commercial link with an industry involved in the proposal under consideration.
4. Ensuring that all scientific research considered by EC and Member State Advisory Committees is genuinely independent and replicable
Up to now, independent science is almost non-existent. Instead, advisory committees have accepted the applicants' own research findings, however flawed, to support their case for GM marketing or release consents. Such “advocacy science” is open to abuse and corruption. The research is non-replicable in practice, as the applicants simply will not provide reference materials for independent researchers and laboratories. In future, no research results submitted by applicants should be considered unless it is accompanied by a written statement to the effect that the applicants will facilitate repeat or follow-up experiments by other researchers, through the provision of the materials requested and other relevant information.
5. Ensuring support for independent science and scientists
The increasing tendency to fund big research programmes in big established research groups has served to reinforce entrenched scientific opinions that are often not in the public interest. This has resulted in the wrong decisions being made, excessive delays in applying appropriate regulatory or remedial measures, and the lack of precaution, all of which have cost the taxpayer hundreds of billions in compensation for damages to health and the environment. The cases that have been resolved against the entrenched scientific opinions include asbestos, thalidomide, cigarette smoking, BSE and foot-and-mouth disease.
These entrenched opinions have colonized our academic institutions, where they are ruthlessly deployed to persecute independent scientists who try to report their research results honestly or to tell the public what they know. This not only intimidates staff and students, it is stultifying innovation and obstructing real progress in understanding nature, resulting in a deterioration of science education at all levels. It has also contributed to a growing, pervasive mistrust of science and scientists across the globe.
To protect the integrity of science and scientists, 10% of Framework 7s budget should be earmarked for supporting independent scientists adopting novel approaches, and in particular, scientists who have been persecuted for research findings uncomfortable for industry, and to ensure that research funding is not concentrated exclusively in big, mainstream research groups.
To overcome the public mistrust of science and scientists, Framework 7 should give priority to research partnerships between scientists and local communities so that peoples concerns and aspirations can help shape the research, and importantly, scientists could benefit from local knowledge. For the same reasons, top priority should be given to revitalising and protecting traditional agricultural and healthcare systems from biopiracy and globalisation, and to developing sciences and technologies appropriate for the local community.
6. Redistributing the research budget to give priority to science and technologies that contribute to sustainability
The research spending of Framework Programme 7 (FP7) is expected to double that of Framework Programme 6 (FP6) to nearly 40 billion over 5 years. While the funding priorities are yet to be decided, there will be a continuation of the FP6 areas with the addition of security and space and basic research. These priorities have already been thoroughly criticized as being predominantly led by industry and technology, with little regard for solving real problems in society or addressing safety concerns.
The two top priorities are "Information society technologies" and "Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health". The first includes telecommunications, mobile phones and masts, now raising serious safety concerns all over the world. The second, biotechnology and genomics research, was heralded to "revolutionize" healthcare, but the entire sector has failed financially as well as scientifically to deliver its promises. In contrast, environmental health and nutrition are completely missing from the list, as are whole areas of biophysics research into sustainable systems, cell biology and health.
We propose the following additions to the list of priorities, some of them may overlap with those already included under "Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems", but we want to give them more specific emphasis.
7. Support science and technologies that contribute to sustainability
Sustainable systems refer ultimately to entire ways of life, including agricultural and industrial production, transport, health and economic and social relationships. Of course, subsystems within the whole could also be studied in their own right. The need for energy efficient production and transport technologies is widely accepted. Not as well acknowledged are the following topics:
Many new research programmes fall potentially within the general area of “science of the organism”. The emphasis is on non-linear complex dynamics, feedback and coherence, which are necessary for understanding complex systems in general. Especially important is the scientific underpinning of complementary and alternative medical practices, in view of the fact that homeopathy is entering mainstream medicine. The biological effects of mobile phones and other electrical installations in the environment, for example, also requires an appropriate biophysical understanding of the organism. We have identified the following topics:
Please add your name and/or your organisation to endorse the comment at https://www.i-sis.org.uk/isp/endorsements/endorsementISP-FP7.php, or see which organisations and individuals have already endorsed the comments at https://www.i-sis.org.uk/isp/endorsements/signed.php.
Article first published 01/04/05
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