To keep their academic freedom, scientists must be accountable to society.
It is meaningful that Advancing research in society is the title of the last part of chapter 3 (Science for Sustainable Development) of the report The Future is Now. Because scientists could produce as many knowledge as they would like, it can only be useful for SGDs if it answers to society needs, and is accepted by it.
Science does not exist in isolation from society. Today, the credibility and legitimacy of science and technology is increasingly being questioned by high-profile political actors and constituencies, as well as corporations. Such actions sow generalized doubt about facts and evidence.
There is a responsibility for scientists and technologists to be accountable to society of what they are doing.
Scientists and engineers, too, have sometimes neglected the responsibilities of being accountable to society, failing to contribute their insights to pressing issues and political deliberations about the future we want. They may also conduct research and innovation that lacks societal accountability, strengthening the image of science as an ivory tower pursuit.
And as the authors insist on academic freedom, they also insist on the fact that, wether scientists like it or not, this freedom must be negociated with society. They could have drawn many example throughout the world where academic freedom is not given a priori.
Sustainability requires freedom to conduct research explicitly in the interest of humanity in a spirit of stewardship of the environment and in consideration of the fundamental values of justice. To that aim, researchers, engineers and the wider public should openly discuss and agree on the changing position of science and technology, its freedoms and constraints and its obligations. Ultimately, scientific freedom can be preserved only when its role in society is mutually deliberated, agreed and upheld.
They propose a way to achieve this: to give more room to younger scientists. This has already been taken into account by many national science academy, as we can see from most of those who support IYBSSD 2022, but also by scientific unions, with networks such as the International Younger Chemists Networks. And of course with the flagship of these initiatives that is the Global Young Academy.
People everywhere, especially the younger generations, are ready to tackle our shared sustainability challenges. There is, for example, growing support and political traction for climate action, changing consumer behaviours and environmental protection. Young scientists often play a central role in mobilizing those ideas through creative science and independent voices, facilitated by networks such as the Global Young Academy and the Major Group on Children and Youth. By bringing together societal actors and non-academic knowledge providers committed to the 2030 Agenda, science can secure its position as an indispensable provider of valuable, trustworthy evidence and advice.
To be continued