Online database unites science and human rights

Scientists can help assess the environmental and health impacts of mining in Africa Copyright: Flickr/Julien Harneis

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Human rights organisations in need of scientific expertise can now register online for the ‘On-call Scientists’ project run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Launched last week (23 October), the project will build a database of human rights organisations requiring scientific advice and scientists willing to volunteer their time to these organisations, and match them up accordingly.

Mona Younis, director of science and human rights at AAAS, says this project takes inspiration from the legal fraternity, which frequently offers its services to human rights causes.

"[Scientists] have such a diverse range of expertise — who knows what we can come up with in terms of collaboration?" she told SciDev.Net.

Younis says a pilot project to assess the user-friendliness of the website has been conducted successfully with three human rights organisations. One of these, the United States-based Global Rights, is looking for scientific help to assess the environmental and health impacts of mining and oil exploration in parts of Africa.

Maria Koulouris, programme officer at Global Rights, told SciDev.Net, "I think the potential for this project is enormous. For organisations that are beginning to look at this type of work, it’s not always easy to know where to begin. Having AAAS there to help guide the process and make those connections is invaluable."

She adds that although some organisations may not understand the value of such partnerships immediately, she believes that this project will "really take off" once they consider strategic ways to accomplish their work.

Younis believes that there will be a particular demand for statisticians and experts in sampling and research methodology, and practitioners from highly specialised areas like hydrology, public health and climatology.

The requests can range from something as straightforward as helping to review a report or providing advice on a project, to on-site fieldwork, she says.

But Younis adds that any expenses incurred must be borne by either one or both of the parties. 

Human rights organisations and scientists interested in participating in this project can sign up at the project’s website. Organisations can list their requests there, and scientists can provide details of their expertise and available time.

AAAS will ensure that all participants meet the required eligibility criteria, including three references to establish their credentials.

According to Younis, the next few months will see the project attempting to recruit scientists from all over the world, as well as reaching out to as many human rights organisations as possible.