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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 40 - February 2004   
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 TABLE OF CONTENTS
 EDITORIAL
 Taking the pollution out of health care
 Ice seasons
 The class of 2003
 Researchers on the high seas
 Protecting the 'whistle-blowers'
 The Prigogine legacy
 The sounds of Ethiopia
 COMMUNICATING SCIENCE
 IN BRIEF
 OPINION
 LETTERS
 PUBLICATIONS
 AGENDA
 CALLS FOR PROPOSALS

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Science under pressure

Sacked or suspended… while others are being prevented from publishing – it is not unusual for scientists who publicly express doubts or fears about the consequences of their research to find their civic conscience causing them professional problems. At a time when science is perhaps too often seen as the universal magic wand, there is the temptation to have scientists say what the politicians or captains of industry would like to hear. Consequently, by virtue of being placed in the service of non-scientific objectives, research can sometimes be put under pressure.

The article on 'whistle-blowers' broaches this delicate subject. Often condemned to isolation by the power of their institution or hierarchy, those lone individuals acting as the 'conscience' of science do not always have the legal or legislative tools to ensure their voices are heard and their rights are respected. In this respect, science is a very human and mundane activity, with its fair share of conflicts, slip-ups and moral issues.

Researchers must therefore be able to speak out freely on the ethical aspects of their research, subject of course to the exclusion of 'denouncements' inspired by the settling of scores, unhealthy rivalry or other base motives. In this respect, if researchers want to combat any form of censure then they must also show more transparency. This is especially true today as their current role is often multifunctional, operating as researchers, experts and fund-raisers at one and the same time. This causes confusion, conflicts and sometimes irregularities. It blurs their image and that of science along with it. Aware of the problem, the publishers of certain journals now require their contributors to cite the source of their funding as proof that an article deemed to be scientifically correct is not, at the same time, potentially biased.

Until researchers speak openly and transparently about the nature and power of science – as well as of their personal position – instances of such bias will continue to occur. This is both regrettable and has potentially devastating consequences.

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