UNESCO Chair in Bioethics


  • Bioethics and Law Observatory
  • UNESCO Chair in Bioethics
  • University of Barcelona
  • Faculty of Law
  • Ave. Diagonal, 684
  • 08034 Barcelona
  • (+34) 93 403 45 46
  • obd.ub@ub.edu
  • Master in Bioethics and Law
  • (+34) 93 403 45 46
  • master.bd@ub.edu


A new report by the OBD analyses conditioning biases in scientific communication


A new report by the Bioethics and Law Observatory (OBD) of the University of Barcelona analyses the ethical aspects of dialogue between science and society, and goes through some successful and failure cases of communication between the scientific community and citizens, and provides participating stakeholders with a series of recommendations.

The text, prepared by María Casado (OBD-UB) and Pere Puigdomènec Rosell (OBD-CSIC), states that communicating research results is an ethical responsibility and is part of the work of researchers, and this communication is a process in which the media and public powers have to be fundamental. The used research to create this publication was driven by la Caixa Banking Foundation.

An open and inclusive science governance model
The OBD report starts stating that “over the last years, the governance of science and innovation is being re-thought in order to drive it towards an open and inclusive model, in which different stakeholders can participate”. This is especially relevant since science research is mostly fed from public funds, and therefore, society can demand access to this information. The authors of the report say that dialogue between science and society is important both for the intrinsic interest in results of scientific researches and for the impact it can have in several fields of politics (for example, in regulations that can affect climate change, food safety or human reproduction, among other topics).

Biases in the dialogue between science and society
In the science-society dialogue, science communication can have different kinds of biases, such as not publishing the results of research studies with negative results for the researcher or the promoter of the research. This can have severe consequences if other researchers decide to study the same hypotheses without knowing they provide negative results. In addition, these unpublished studies do not appear in systematic reviews, which lead to biased results.

Recommendations for researchers, communicators and managers
OBD suggests publishing research results openly and notes that publications shouldn’t be assessed according to numerical impact criteria only. Another recommendation is that any relevant condition when interpreting results should be stated transparently, leaving conflicts of interest aside.

Regarding the media, OBD highlights the importance of following deontological codes in order to avoid the diffusion of results of low-rigour studies, to ensure the reliability of sources and to explicitly mention where the data come from. This is suggested in order to avoid having false hopes, as well as the magnification of these results in an advertising manner.

The relevance of scientific information in decision-taking within public powers requires the creation of consultative structures in which policy-makers can gather information on science topics. It also requires to implement solid mechanisms of accountability and to provide tools to ease the bidirectional dialogue between scientists and social actors, as well as to ease citizen participation on research, with the division of responsibility among scientists and the different social actors. The method of science and its most relevant content has to be present in all educational levels, with special emphasis on the basic training to learn how to interpret the news on the media as well as information on social networks.

Team of experts who participated in the report
The following are authors of the report: Blanca Bórquez (National Library of Chile), Michele Catanarzo (journalist), Fernando José García López (Institute of Health Carlos III), Itziar de Lecuona (OBD-UB), Manuel J. López Baroni (OBD-University Pablo Olavide), Rosina Malagrida (Living Lab IrsiCaixa) and María José Plana (lawyer, OBD). Other participating experts were Carla Faralli and Silvia Zullo (CIRSFID, University of Bologna); Sara Chan (University of Edinburgh); Mariana Dobernig (Ibero-American University, Mexico); Jorge Linares (National Autonomous University of Mexico); Florencia Luna (CONICET and FLACSO Argentina), Susan Turner (Austral University of Chile); Macario Alemany (University of Alicante); Ana Rubio (University of Granada) and Josep Santaló (OBD-UAB).