Top EU scientist calls for ethical standards to ease suspicion of industry

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The suspicion that industrial involvement in science is only geared towards profit threatens to derail European policymaking and new ethical standards could help solve the issue, the EU’s chief scientific advisor has said.

Professor Anne Glover, the chief scientific advisor to Commission President José Manuel Barroso, said she had become “extremely uncomfortable” witnessing the lack of trust in some quarters at the role of industry in science.

Speaking at a debate on 9 April – ‘Science and decision-making – a relationship under strain’ – organised in Brussels by think tank the European Policy Centre, Glover said that it was necessary and a good thing for scientists to have contacts with industry.

“Why are we so suspicious about industry? We suspect it is only interested in profit. We need to do something about that because companies employ people and are an integral part of the environment,” Glover said.

Industry chief backs Glover’s idea

Glover said that suspicion about business involvement in science policy could detach the link between industry and the quest for evidence to back key innovations – such as nanotechnology – and thus skew the debate.

Barroso’s science advisor said that the creation of a standard ethics code for business to apply to research could help repair the lack of trust.

“I mention this because we have an EU group on ethics for science and new technology: comprising one-third scientists, one-third theologians and one-third lawyers. Why is it that science needs ethics but business does not?” said Glover.

“That would be good for business and enable citizens to engage with business and would enable us to capitalise on our leading innovative capabilities,” she added.

>> Read: New group to advise Barroso on science, technology

Glover said that industry and business should be guided by the dictum of Robert Bosch, the German entrepreneur, who said: “I would rather lose profit than trust.”

Wolfgang Weber, vice-president of German chemicals company BASF and another speaker at the event –  said it was a “very good idea” and “worth pursuing”.

“Industry has to comply with many standards, and we do so and this gives certainty to business and industry, so new standards for ethics research and innovation could be something I could be convinced of, so that there is one level playing field,” said Weber.

The European Commission has set up a special advisory group on science and technology in February 2013, to provide independent information and advice on an array of scientific and technology issues.

>> Read: New group to advise Barroso on science, technology

The creation of the council and the earlier appointment of a staff science advisor reflect both the Commission's increasing focus on science and technology to boost European competitiveness, but also a need to deal with political minefields such as genetically modified crops, biofuels and shale gas.

The group's creation came 13 months after the appointment of the Commission's first scientific advisor.

  • The European Policy Centre: Website

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