Research plays a fundamental role in to increasing knowledge and promote the health, prosperity and security of mankind and the protection of the environment. The freedom of scientific research (also scientific freedom or academic freedom) is the main requirement for this. The concept legitimizes scientific and research actors (individuals and institutions) to decide freely what and how research is to be conducted and how the results are to be interpreted. The concept also implies that science and research are not instrumentalized, for example, by political or profit-oriented interests.
Values play an important role in the context of science diplomacy. Mostly political and diplomatic values are seen to be effective, but scientific values do also play an important role. This matters especially because science diplomacy brings hitherto unexpected values to the sphere of international politics, i.e. values from the social system of science.
A transversal analysis of science diplomacy case studies showed that values like (scientific) freedom matter because they enable actors to make sense of their practices, but very often they are internalized and implicit.
The idea of scientific freedom stems from European traditions and has a long history of scientists struggling for liberty. Over the last two centuries, the idea of scientific freedom has become an accepted precondition for producing excellent knowledge. In some parts of Europe though, “academic freedom is no longer self-evident, with grave consequences for scholars, science, and society”. The European Union states the freedom of scientific research to be a key principle for success and sustainability, especially for the European Research Area. Hence, an important step towards the reinforcement of these values was the adaption of the Bonn Declaration for scientific freedom [Link einfügen] in October 2020, it was endorsed by the research ministers of the European member states. The signatories to the Bonn Declaration undertake to protect the critical discourse and condemn violations of freedom of scientific research. This entails the protection of researchers by government institutions and safeguarding against government intervention in the freedom of research. The Guild of European Research-Intense Universities for example wrote in its statement: “What researchers focus on should be determined by scientific questions, subject to universal ethical boundaries that should be strongly aligned with the European values articulated in Art.2 TEU, and with a global commitment to research integrity.”
Recently, the European Commission published a Staff Working Document on tackling R&I foreign interference, a topic that links closely to that of scientific freedom as “foreign interference occurs when activities are carried out by, or on behalf of, a foreign state-level actor, which are coercive, covert, deceptive, or corrupting and are contrary to the sovereignty, values, and interests of the European Union (EU).” The document lists a number of mitigating measures against foreign interference and underlines the Commissions position.
Most states and universities around the world have pledged to safeguard academic freedom. But in many places, it is far from being a matter of course. Against this background, a group a scholars, including Scholars at Risk (SAR) has developed the Academic Freedom Index (AFI). It provides data on the global development of academic freedom since 1900. The index was first published in 2019 and is updated annually. The current data are freely available; an online visualization tool is also offered. The report can be downloaded from Free Universities: Putting the Academic Freedom Index Into Action (pdf)