Humanity has had major problems with infection since the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago, when larger communities living at permanent sites with domesticated animals experienced much greater exposure to pathogens. From then until the nineteenth century, infectious disease caused mortality patterns where half of children born were dead before the age of 5 and half of the remaining population before the age of 40. This mortality pattern had a major influence on human society promoting belief in life after death or in repeated reincarnation. Many religious prescriptions with regard to diet, personal hygiene and sexual behaviour probably survived because of their effect on preventing infection. With the advent of public health, vaccination and antimicrobial therapy, this situation has been transformed in the last century. This has contributed to an enormous increase in population and the consequences for the future of humankind are discussed.
The quest for the right to science
This chapter discusses the prohibition of narcotics and other psychoactive substances, and its impact on science. International organisations, particularly the United Nations, have intervened over the years to regulate and control the use and distribution of psychoactive substances. There are three main international Conventions that deal with psychoactive substances: the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), the Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) and the Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988). The prohibitions relating to psychoactive substances can seriously hinder the progress of scientific research. As scientific advancement is regarded as a human right by the same treaties and documents which restrict the use of psychoactive substances, prohibition results in the violation of fundamental human rights, such as the right to science and to health.
Bridging the gap between science and society
Edited by: Simona Giordano, John Harris and Lucio Piccirillo
Never have the scope and limits of scientific freedom been more important or more under attack. New science, from artificial intelligence to genomic manipulation, creates unique opportunities to make the world a better place. But it also presents unprecedented dangers, which many believe threaten the survival of humanity and the planet. This collection, by an international and multidisciplinary group of leading thinkers, addresses three vital questions: (1) How are scientific developments impacting on human life and on the structure of societies? (2) How is science regulated, and how should it be regulated? (3) Are there ethical boundaries to scientific developments in some sensitive areas (e.g. robotic intelligence, biosecurity)? The contributors are drawn from many disciplines, and approach the issues in diverse ways to secure the widest representation of the many interests engaged. They include some of the most distinguished academics working in this field, as well as young scholars.
From theory to advocacy
Andrea Boggio and Cesare P. R. Romano
While international law has recognised a human right to science since 1948, the binding normative content of this right still needs to be clarified and specified. It is rarely discussed by states when they report on their obligations under the various international human rights treaties (UN and ICESCR), and receives scant attention by international human rights bodies. To advance our understanding of this under-studied and under-appreciated right, this chapter offers an overview of ways in which the right to science can be advanced and realised. The chapter is divided into three parts: the first section discusses the recognition of the right to science under international and regional legal instruments; the second presents a literature review; and the third discusses the use (mobilisation) of international adjudicative and political forums to advance the right to science and to shape its normative content.
The case of mitochondrial transfer
This chapter examines the relationship between mitochondrial transfer technologies and scientific freedom. Transfer of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) promises to eliminate mitochondrial disease from affected embryos. This procedure promises to improve future lives significantly; but if it turns out to have undesirable consequences, it could cause several generations of harm. This raises questions about the freedom to pursue potentially harmful techniques. How should we weigh the risks? Moreover, faced with the claim that altering the human genome is eugenic, is the freedom to pursue eugenic technologies a freedom worth defending? We must acknowledge the risks of mtDNA transfer; but they should be kept in perspective. The freedom to attempt to free future generations from inherited illness is worth protecting.
Friends or foes?
Roberto Baldoli and Claudio M. Radaelli
Although they are often pitched one against the other, evidence-based policy and precaution are compatible, at least in the field of freedom of scientific research. To support this claim, the authors discuss the European Union and its position on precaution. The chapter argues that there is nothing inherently anti-evidence in the precautionary principle adopted by the European Union. The problem lies in how it is manipulated for reasons of political advocacy. To reconcile precaution and evidence-based policy, the authors argue that it is precautionary to not prohibit any scientific research unless there is empirical evidence that costs and damages outweigh benefits. This guarantees freedom of science, which is also protected by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. This freedom, however, needs to be balanced by social trust and scientific responsibility. In other words, a new social contract is needed, in which scientists obtain freedom but are accountable to and in active dialogue with society.
This chapter discusses ways in which the scientific community can maintain or build trust with regard to the contentious area of embryo research. A first prerequisite is transparency about what type of research embryos are being used for, especially in relation to embryo/gamete donors. For at least four types of research/procedures – stem cell research, genome editing, extensive embryo culturing and transfer of embryos to other research facilities – extra caution is required, and explicit consent should be sought.