A critical balance needs to be achieved between treating scientific data as a commodity for short-term economic return, and ensuring "universal and equitable access" to such data for research and education purposes.
This was one of the key messages delivered on behalf of the world's scientific community to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva this week by Jane Lubchenco, the president of the International Council for Science (ICSU).
Addressing the plenary session of the WSIS on Thursday (11 December), Lubchenco emphasised that publicly funded science played a "central role" in the development of the information society.
She pointed out that many of the fundamental technological components of the information society, from electricity to the World Wide Web, were discovered or invented in academic laboratories.
"Even more important however, is the role that scientific knowledge plays as a driving force for social and economic development," she said, describing the WSIS as "potentially a very major step" in the process towards a more equitable and sustainable society.
Access to scientific knowledge requires infrastructure, particularly in universities and research centres, she said. It also requires both human capacity, and "appropriate national and international IPR [intellectual property] policies".
However she avoided any direct reference to pressures for open access that are coming from parts of the scientific community, and had been voiced to the WSIS delegates the previous day (see WSIS hears plea for open access).
Lubchenco said that ICSU was pleased to see that the role of science in the information society was explicitly recognised in the declaration of principles due to be adopted by the summit meeting, which ends today (12 December).
She added that she was also encouraged that the plan of action addresses issues such as the need for information technology infrastructure for universities, and — as ICSU and other scientific bodies had proposed — a specific section on 'e-science'.
"The challenge now is to turn these words into actions and, in this respect, the international science community is willing to play its part", Lubchenco said.