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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 September 2007, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
UK science head backs ethics code
By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News, York

Sir David King, chief scientific adviser
Science would benefit from a global ethical code, Sir David believes
The British government's chief scientific advisor has set out a universal ethical code for scientists.

Professor Sir David King has outlined seven principles aimed at building trust between scientists and society.

Described as the scientific equivalent of doctors' Hippocratic Oath, the code includes clauses on corruption, public consultation and the environment.

He launched the code at the British Association for the Advancement of Science's annual festival in York.

The seven points in this code are part of what separates researchers from charlatans
Dr Evan Harris
The aim, he said, was to outline responsibilities and values in order to encourage researchers to reflect on the impact their work would have on wider society.

"We believe if every scientist followed the code, we would improve the quality of science and remove many of the concerns society has about research," Professor King told BBC News.

Code endorsed

The scientific profession generally has high standards of integrity, and many scientists have a social conscience, according to Professor King. But there is no formal code of ethics.

Act with skill and care, keep skills up to date
Prevent corrupt practice and declare conflicts of interest
Respect and acknowledge the work of other scientists
Ensure that research is justified and lawful
Minimise impacts on people, animals and the environment
Discuss issues science raises for society
Do not mislead; present evidence honestly
"It's important to look at the relationship between science and the public," he said.

"If we have a breakthrough, and society is not accepting of that, then we have a problem; so what we need is for scientists to accept the code and follow it."

The code has been adopted by scientists working in the UK government - and Professor King has invited researchers in UK universities and industry to join them. Next year it will be launched internationally.

The idea was swiftly backed by Lib Dem science spokesman Dr Evan Harris.

"The seven points in this code are part of what separates researchers from charlatans, medicine from quackery and science from supposition," he said.

"It deserves the full support of the science world and policy-makers from the UN down to university governing bodies and company boards."

Hwang Woo-suk. Image: AP

The Royal Society of Chemistry also approved, issuing a statement saying: "We are proud that all of our 44,000 members across the world, including Sir David King himself, have already signed up to such a code and subject themselves to independent regulation and scrutiny of their professional duties."

Professor King conceded that the code could create conflicts between employers and individuals, but suggested it could also help resolve them.

"Place yourself in the position of a scientist who works for a tobacco company, and the company asks you to counter evidence about the health impacts of tobacco.

"That scientist would be able to look at the code and say, 'I can't do that'."

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