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, personalized medicine, genetically modified organisms, food safety, and animal health and welfare.
The FEBS Science and Society Committee works at the interface between scientists, policy makers and the wider public. The Committee contributes through creating strategies and mechanisms for the shaping of policy and as a key European Federation focusing the efforts of member organizations on catalysing initiatives.
Scientific policy at the European level can be split into two strands: funding and regulation. Within the area of science funding the Committee aims to empower scientists to take a more active role in strategic plans and to enable them to speak with a unified voice. By consulting the scientific community it is much easier to generate a bottom-up approach and, most importantly, to create a vision for life sciences, which can be supported through European and national government money. The other aspect to science policy is working on the regulatory side, ensuring that there is sound scientific input into new laws and regulations that impact the life sciences. Within this, the Committee aims to champion diversity within biochemical sciences.
Working with the wider public beyond policy makers, the Committee, in collaboration with the FEBS Constituent Societies, aims to increase the understanding of biochemical science across Europe. This is particularly important as life sciences have undergone a tremendous explosion during recent years. This rapid development has resulted in a number of ethical issues and the Committee aims to provide unbiased contributions to the wider societal debate about the use of these technologies, linking to the Committee’s work on regulatory policy. As part of this objective the Committee organizes a science and society symposium at the annual FEBS Congress.
Recent and upcoming activities
FEBS Congress Science and Society Session 2017
The FEBS Special Session on Science and Society at the 42nd FEBS Congress in Jerusalem in September 2017 will cover CRIPSR science, clinical applications and ethics.
FEBS Special Session on Science and Society − The role of CRISPR in Personalized Medicine: Legal and Ethical Problems (Wed Sep 13, 15.00−17.00)
• CRISPR mechanism: RNA-guided DNA/RNA targeting, Francisco Mojica, Alicante, Spain
• Genome editing in the clinic: status, prospects and hurdles, Adi Barzel, Tel Aviv, Israel
• Genome editing, bioethics and the Oviedo Convention, Peter Mills, London, UK
• General discusssion
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. The full terms of reference of the Committee are given in the FEBS Bylaws.
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:
2016 (Kuşadası – cancelled), Session was planned on GMOs: Applications to Medicine and Agronomy (two speakers shared slide sets on the Congress website in absence of live event)
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