This week we invite you to access this free title from Professor Donrich W Thaldar from the Law School of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, where he chairs the Health Law & Ethics Research Interest Group, and Michaela Steytler, who completed her Medical Law degree Cum Laude in 2021 at UKZN.
Why research freedom is crucial to science?
Scientific research is critical to help us navigate our ever-changing world with objective, tangible evidence; without it, we would have to rely on people’s opinions, our intuitions and luck. Scientific freedom and scientific responsibility are essential to the advancement of human knowledge for the benefit of all.
While the South African Constitution explicitly protects the right to freedom of scientific research, it is not featured in either legislation or in any reported case law. It is essential to clarify this right to freedom of scientific research to prevent South Africa from slipping into dictatorial control of the scientific enterprise, which would be a disservice to society and scientists alike. Supporting more protections serves purposes that are at the core of our constitutional value system: promoting individual autonomy, facilitating the search for truth, and supporting democracy.
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“The right to freedom of scientific research is unique in protecting not only the exchange of scientific thoughts and information but also in particular the physical activities entailed by scientific research, such as performing experiments. The notion that government should somehow seek to regulate every new scientific development is erroneous, as freedom should be the default position in science-related policy, and should only be limited by regulation if, and to the extent that, it is constitutionally justified.”
This situation is possibly self-perpetuating: while no one relies on the right to freedom of scientific research, the right will never be analysed and applied by a court, and no one will have the confidence to be the first to venture onto terra incognita by enforcing the right. We stay in the dark. The global COVID-19 pandemic, and in particular the accusations against the Chinese government of exercising censure against its scientists, vividly illustrates the relevance and importance of freedom of scientific research. Clearly, freedom of scientific research can save lives. But the relevance of the right to freedom of scientific research is not restricted to such a healthcare crisis.
Whenever science-related policy is developed or revised in South Africa, the right to freedom of scientific research is — as a matter of law — relevant and should form a core part of the deliberations. Instead of viewing science as an esoteric activity that constantly requires expanded regulation, it should be viewed in a more optimistic light as interwoven with the ideals of human dignity, human flourishing, saving lives, democracy, and good governance. It is time to place the right to freedom of scientific research on centre stage.
“In this article, we aim to illuminate the right to freedom of scientific research, and to inspire confidence in the reader to apply the right practically where relevant.”
Download the full article here.