Science and Society
Molecular life sciences research makes major contributions to societal goals such as understanding and controlling human diseases, developing new medicines, materials and foods, as well controlling diseases of plants and animals. The public, policy makers and the media take interest in many issues related to the aims, outcomes and implications of such research, which often has an ethical dimension. Among the publicly debated issues are stem cell research, genetically modified organisms, food safety, and animal health and welfare.
The FEBS Science and Society Committee has a wide remit, which includes increasing awareness of ethical, legal and societal issues among molecular life scientists and the wider public, and contributing to European science policy debate. To this end, two major areas of activity are: (1) to organise a workshop/symposium at the annual FEBS Congress, and occasional science and society lectures at other events (for instance FEBS3+ Meetings, or Workshops co-sponsored with the FEBS Education Committee); and (2) to follow European science policy and make recommendations to national and/or European bodies on all aspects of scientific activities, using various channels including multidisciplinary European organizations such as the Alliance for BioMedical Research in Europe (BioMed Alliance). The full terms of reference of the committee are given in the FEBS Bylaws.
Recent and upcoming activities
The FEBS Special Session on Science and Society at the 41st FEBS Congress, Ephesus / Kuşadası, was planned to be on 'GMOs: Applications to Medicine and Agronomy'; however, the Congress was cancelled on 5 August 2016.
The session was to comprise three talks followed by a discussion:
• GMOs: Modern biotechnology and food security in the 21st century, Selim Cetiner, Turkey
• The application of genetic modification and other biotechnologies involving plants to the treatment of infectious diseases, Markus Sack, Germany
• GMOs: Societal and political context, Marcel Kuntz, France
• General discussion
Markus Sack and Marcel Kuntz kindly supplied slidesets for delegates to view on the Congress website following cancellation of the live event.
Research Integrity: A Code of Conduct
As a charitable organization, FEBS aims to advance research and education in the molecular life sciences through its journals, fellowships, courses, congress and other activities. Ethical conduct is demanded in all activities supported by FEBS. Given recent increased concerns among scientists and the public about good research practice, and following discussion of codes of conduct by the FEBS Science and Society Committee, FEBS has decided to subscribe to the 'European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity'. This document was prepared by the European Science Foundation/All European Academies, and FEBS is grateful to the European Science Foundation for permission to refer to it. The Code calls for researchers, public and private research organizations, universities and funding organizations to observe and promote the principles of integrity in scientific and scholarly research, including reliability in performing research, honesty in communication, objectivity, impartiality and independence, openness and accessibility, duty of care, fairness in providing references and giving credit, and responsibility for the scientists and researchers of the future.
Contacts with the EU, EMBO and other organizations have taken place in order to exchange information and coordinate activities related to science and society. Under the umbrella of ISE and of the BioMed Alliance, FEBS has participated in efforts to obtain from the EU the best research budget possible for the next Framework Programme (Horizon 2020), especially for the ERC (European Research Council)*, and continues to participate in efforts (1) to raise public awareness of scientific research issues, (2) to suggest better criteria for reseach assessment in evaluation procedures, (3) to facilitate transition to Open Access publication, and (4) to recommend principles for sharing research data (including clinical data).
The work of the FEBS Science and Society Committee is reported to FEBS Council and in the Science and Society Committee appendix of the FEBS Annual Report. Occasional reports also appear in FEBS News. For members of the Science and Society Committee, click here. Prof. Jacques-Henry Weil, Chair of this committee from 2011, sadly passed away on 6 October 2016; an obituary will appear in the next issue of FEBS News. Following FEBS Council elections in September 2016, Prof. Emmanuel Fragkoulis will take over this role from 1 January 2017.
A short history
The FEBS Council approved the establishment of a Science and Society Committee, chaired by Federico Mayor, Spain, at its 27th Meeting, held in Lisbon in 2001. Alongside its other work, the Committee has organized a science and society programme at each of the FEBS annual Congresses since 2002, as summarized below.
*The past role of FEBS, together with other research organizations in Europe, in working towards the creation of the European Research Council (ERC) for investigator-driven funding within Europe is described in a recent article in Molecular Oncology:
Celis, J.E. and Gago, J.M. (2014) Shaping science policy in Europe. Mol. Oncol. 8, 447–457
Science and Society programmes at past FEBS Congresses:
2015 (Berlin), Session on Evolutionary Medicine, subtitled 'Why do we get sick?'
2014 (Paris; FEBS–EMBO Conference), Session on Safety and Security in the Biological Sciences, and Roundtable on New Trends in European Scientific Policy
2013 (St Petersburg), Workshop on Personalized Cancer Medicine
2012 (Sevilla; IUBMB–FEBS Congress), Session on AIDS, and joint workshops with FEBS, IUBMB and SEBBM Education Committees on biochemistry and molecular biology education
2011 (Torino), Session on Genetic Diseases
2010 (Gothenburg), Session on Biofuels are more than Fuels
2009 (Prague), Session on Ethics and Legislation in Stem Cell Research
2008 (Athens), Session on Biochemistry-Quality of Life-New Challenges
2007 (Vienna), (i) A town hall meeting on Re-Emerging Diseases - A Global Threat; (ii) Inclusion of Science & Society issues in a workshop on Lipids and Aging; and (iii) a Science and Society Session on Alzheimer Disease -"Aging of the Brain"
2006 (Istanbul), Session on Genetically Modified Plants: Current Status and Future Challenges
2005 (Budapest); Special Lecture on Science, Society and Public Understanding of Science
2004 (Warsaw), Session on Biological, Medical and Ethical Aspects of Stem Cell Research
2003 (Special Meeting, Brussels), Three Panel Sessions on (i) Science and Society in Europe; (ii) Stem Cell Research and Society; and (iii) Genetically Modified Organisms: Public Perception, Regulation and Role of Media
2002 (Istanbul), Panel Session on Science, Society and the Media