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Governance must facilitate responsible research, urges report

European governments and the EU must lead the way in making research and innovation more ethical and responsible, according to a report issued by a Commission expert group.

The group states that market forces and industrial pressures alone are not enough to ensure that research is undertaken in an ethically responsible and socially acceptable way. In such cases, research results can be rejected by society, which is a waste of resources and can undermine technological progress, the group says.

The report, Options for Strengthening Responsible Research and Innovation, found that there are many different concepts floating around in Europe to make research more responsible. The EU and national governments must get together to align these concepts and provide strong guidelines on issues like societal needs in innovation, ethics and risk communication.

The report highlights several research fields, such as stem cell research, nanotechnologies, genetic modification and nuclear technologies, in which scientists have either failed to consider ethics and social needs, or have failed to communicate their science well. Failures such as this can lead to a reduction in public support for science, and pose an obstacle to the update of new technologies, the report warns.

A series of recommendations around monitoring and evaluating research responsibility are given in the report, in addition to several policy scenarios. The Commission’s advisory group on responsible research is part of the directorate general for research’s ethics and gender unit.