The Brussels Declaration - Ethics and Principles for Science and Society

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Policy decisions should be based on evidence in order to provide the most benefit for the health and safety of the public. However, there are scant guidelines for making sound evidence-based policy focused on the intersection of science and society.

Making science policy requires policymakers, scientists, and the public.

Scientists don't necessarily understand policy and policymakers don't necessarily understand science, and the public, well they may or may not understand either of these two realms. But those three groups bring differing perspectives, understandings, and contexts and each has their set of values that must be integrated to create sound policy. 

The Brussels Declaration on the Ethics and Principles for Science and Society Policy-Making was published at last week's meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, Massachusetts. More than 300 people from 35 countries spent five years developing this 20-point blueprint identifying principles to guide policy makers at the intersection of science and society.

Overall, the document stresses the importance of taking a multidisciplinary approach to policy making that encourages, above all, a high level of accountability and integrity from the people involved.

The Declaration has five sections that aim to tackle the building of a framework for policymaking. The five sections are listed below, with a small description of each, and we plan to expound further on each one in future posts (each of the twenty principles is so important, there could be 20 articles!)

Section 1: Science and Policy - A Crucial Relationship 

  • This section provides a picture into the complications that underlie the role of science in policymaking and vice versa. For example, the fact that scientific evidence is not always welcomed by policy makers. Or, if it is, it may present conflicting viewpoints. 

Section 2: What We Expect From the Scientific Community 

  • This section speaks to the requirement that scientists (and the science that they represent) maintain the utmost level of integrity. And 'science' does not just mean biology but should be inclusive of all of the scientific disciplines. Scientists must do the best job possible communicating their science and must engage the public while being able to listen and respond to criticism. 

Section 3: What We Expect From the Policy-Making Community 

  • Policy makers should be receptive to scientific input and challenge science to both define and deliver on specific goals that may be useful to policy making endeavors. Also, they should recognize and consider the critical ethical component and impact of policy decisions on humans. 

Section 4: What We Expect From the Public, Media, Industry and Interest Groups  

  • The public plays a critical role in policy-making - increasing scientific literacy would enhance their participation and is an important goal. There is a role for social media in this process. Industry should not be shunned - nor should other interest groups and bias from a group giving input should be acknowledged. 

Section 5: What Needs to Change: How Scientific Advice And Greater Inclusivity Need to be Integrated More Effectively 

  • Scientific advice must be involved in all stages of policy making, and the process must recognize the rapid pace of scientific discovery and acknowledge both short and long term, concerns and considerations. Lastly, public health should be emphasized in policy making. 

In the first act of implementing some of the principles included in the declaration, it is currently open for public comment which can be found at www.sci-com.eu for the remainder of the year.