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Brussels, November 16, 2000
Commission seeks to stimulate science-society debate
Keywords: science, society, governance, risk, expertise
In a discussion paper given to the European Research Ministers today, Commissioner Philippe Busquin proposes initiating a wide-ranging debate on the role and place of science in our society. “In today’s Europe, the relationship between science and society is something of a paradox,” believes Commissioner Busquin. “Europeans expect a lot from science, but several recent cases – such as the mad cow crisis – show the difficulty inherent in managing scientific knowledge. There is an urgent need to discuss these questions with ordinary people in a way they can understand.” The discussion paper concentrates on four aspects: science-society relations; the definition of research priorities; risk management; and dialogue between scientists, politicians and individuals. By proposing actions to be undertaken or planned at regional, national and European levels, the paper should ultimately help European society to make better use of scientific and technical progress.
What is the relationship between the average European and science? Does research meet the expectations of society? How can technical progress be used responsibly? How can increasing Europeans’ knowledge of science and their interest in it be used to strengthen the science-society dialogue? These are the essential questions put forward in a discussion paper entitled "Science, society and the citizen in Europe". The paper is another step forward in the development of the European Research Area, which attaches a special importance to the relations between science and society. The objective is to provoke a double debate – both within the European institutions and amongst the general public – on these sometimes conflictual relations and to suggest approaches for developing new relationships between the key players in research and the public.
Thinking about science-society relations is a vital element in the general discussion being undertaken by the Commission on European governance, itself aimed at reviving the democratic debate between the world of politics and the people. Here, the scientific and technical fields take on a symbolic value due particularly to the fact of their impact on society, of the complexity of the problems that they raise and of the relationship between decision-makers, experts and individuals. The attitude of Europeans vis-à-vis science thus conceals ambivalent if not ambiguous feelings: increasingly high expectations of an improved quality of life to be brought about by new technologies coexist with greater suspicion of some of these.
The paper comprises four sections, each one addressing a concern and a particular need:
- The first topic, “New relationships between science and society”, shows that new relations are necessary to reflect the recent developments of science, technology and the society.
- The second, “Bringing research closer to society”, evokes the need to structure research policies according to relevant aims for society. One of the most obvious cases concerns the need to subscribe to the principle of sustainable development – both environmental, and economic and social.
- The third, “Using scientific and technological progress responsibly”, approaches the management of risks of human origin, which, increasingly, are invisible and imperceptible in the short term. In this context, the paper suggests ways of applying the precautionary principle, managing expertise and recognising the importance of ethical questions.
- The fourth, “Stepping up the science-society dialogue”, addresses the development, particularly at the European level, of new forms of dialogue between research workers, experts, politicians, industrial decision-makers and individuals.
For further information:
Michel Claessens, Communication Unit, Research DG
Tel : +32-2-295.99.71, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
PRESS RELEASES | 16.11.2000