BUDAPEST--A sketchy roadmap for science in the 21st century was endorsed by more than 1800 scientists, activists, and policy-makers here at this week's World Conference on Science, a meeting aimed at improving science's relations with society. Despite the sometimes emotional debates, the conference's two final documents managed to endorse the general concepts of ethics, equity, and access--but it didn't offer many specifics on how science should be conducted, funded, disseminated, or policed.
Reaching even modest consensus was far from easy. Conference rooms rang with a cacophony of voices from Australia to Zambia, representing more than 150 countries and scientific interests as diverse as particle physics and small-farm agriculture. Heated debates began straight after the initial session, when some women delegates pointed out that all speakers in the podium were male. The arguments spilled over into a stormy session on "gender mainstreaming" in science. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, some delegates from industrialized nations grumbled that industry was barely represented at the conference, while Third World scientists complained that--at a time of U.S. budget surpluses--the world's strongest economy was unwilling to step up aid to science in the developing world.
By the end of the 6-day meeting, two documents emerged--a nonbinding "Declaration on Science" and a "Framework for Action." They call for governments across the globe to support science, science education at universities, and accessibility for women and other groups such as the disabled, ethnic minorities, and indigenous peoples. International collaboration, the documents say, should be supported at all levels. Governments and professional bodies should promote ethical conduct or draw up codes of ethics, while scientists should themselves adhere to the highest ethical standards.
As the bleary-eyed delegates headed home from Budapest, some recalled that the noble goals of the last such conference--held in Vienna in 1979--had not been fulfilled (Science, 11 June 1999, p. 1760 ). "The follow-up is the most important aspect of the conference," said Spanish biochemist Federico Mayor, director-general of UNESCO, which had cosponsored the meeting. He added UNESCO would establish a network that will meet once a year to evaluate the conference follow-up and recommend ways to implement the resolutions.