In the practice of the life sciences, safety, security, and ethics are all overlapping elements of a continuum that can be encapsulated as the responsible conduct of science. Similarly, the boundaries between the scientific and technical disciplines involved in the life sciences have largely evaporated. Many people involved in life science research and related activities do not have a biological science background—these include physicists, chemists, engineers, and increasingly information technology specialists in governmental, academic, and private- sector institutions and organizations. Thus, academic and other educational institutions have a special problem in ensuring the proper training and education of individuals at facilities engaged in activities where special precautions are needed. Organizations handling dangerous pathogens have a particular responsibility to ensure that training and leadership in safety and security issues, including international and national laws and regulations, takes into account those staff who may not have received appropriate instructions related to these dangerous organisms, whether they work in or are involved in management and other directly related activities.
In the ICLS- Pakistan efforts we have tried to reach out to different sectors – academies, government and the private sector. Here we are focused on the bio-medical community.
As you can see from the agenda for this conference responsible conduct needs discussion in a wider context. As important as it is, in our discussions here it is not only about safety and security but also ethical conduct in a wider sense. It extends, among other areas, to the conduct of research, in the conduct of medical practice and in the publication results of scientific endeavours.
Assuring the responsible conduct of science comes down, in the end, to people and knowledge. Heads of life science institutions are increasingly challenged to focus on the abilities of staff in the workplace without assuming that issues of ethics, safety, and security have been dealt with in the normal course of academic training. The conduct of responsible science, whether in the life sciences or elsewhere, lies in the first instance with the scientists themselves. Scientists have a duty not only to themselves but also to society as a whole—that is to say to governments, academia, private companies, and to the public- at- large. At the most basic level, science should be conducted to benefit humanity, which requires a conscious calculation of the risks involved in every endeavour. The boundaries between scientific disciplines have become increasingly blurred, for positive reasons, making it harder for specialist societies and other discipline-focused professional organizations to bring rigour to codes of conduct and other methods that help ensure safe, secure, and ethical conduct in their respective fields.
In a belief that a multi- disciplinary consultation was urgently needed to help chart better ways to ensure the responsible conduct of science without hindering its advance and dissemination, the ICLS and colleagues in Pakistan developed the responsible conduct of science project. We felt that scientists in all disciplines need to find better and explicit ways to connect with policymakers and the public- at- large to build confidence that scientists well understand their responsibilities. This is a vital element in assuring that science is properly funded and that social, cultural, and religious aspects are properly understood so that society can reap the true health- related, social, and economic benefits of science.
The objectives of the project that began in earnest in 2010 were to:
Promote the conduct of responsible science among scientists and engineers
Promote the ideal that science and technology should not be misused to harm humanity
Promote respect for the scientific professions in a way appropriate to an Islamic society
Enhance the contribution of science and technology to the Pakistani community- at- large
Build a sustainable network in Pakistan that meets regularly on key issues related to the conduct of safe, secure, and ethical science in the context of an Islamic society.
Since the effort began in 2010 international participants from the South Asian region were brought into the consultation including from Malaysia and Australia.
It is important to record that the effort remains in the hands of individuals—but in an increasing number. The support for this project comes largely from the time and effort of the individuals involved. Although there is only a modest amount of funding, initially a significant amount of the financial support came from regional and local sources including the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) and the Pakistan Academy of
Sciences. Vital support in kind came from the academic host institutions in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi. The geographic expansion of the project across South Asia and beyond is particularly encouraging—all of this through personal contacts and networking.
Scientists and engineers must show that they recognize their responsibilities to society as a whole and, as individuals, are ready to demonstrate that they fully understand these responsibilities by implementing codes of conduct and best practices to ensure responsible conduct in this fast- moving and dynamic area of science and technology. This can succeed only if a sufficient number of highly motivated individuals are prepared to champion the cause of biological safety, security, and ethical conduct.
I very much hope that this fifth conference will impart further momentum to the ideas embodied in this project and look forward to the active participation of everyone participating to develop fresh ideas about how to move forward. What to do next? An important element will be a proper record of the work so far conducted I very much hope that the speakers will supply the organisers with a copy of their remarks and presentations.
Before closing I must express my heartiest appreciation for the efforts of the University of Karachi and in particular its Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, its Director-General, Professor Dr Abid Azhar and his staff and students in making this event possible.