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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 37 - May 2003    
 Ambitions for research
 Agriculture and the life sciences: food for thought
 Fighting microbial resistance
 An anthropologist takes stock
 The Museu de la Cičncia in Barcelona
 The digital cosmos

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NEWS IN BRIEF Printable version

The state of European research
Bullet S&T indicators

Europe is the world's biggest 'brain factory' while paradoxically employing, on average, fewer researchers than its principal competitors.

It has the brains but lacks the drive. That just about sums up the current - worrying - state of the European Research Area as revealed by the third report on Europe's science and technology indicators, published in March 2003. In terms of generating knowledge and excellence, Europe certainly remains among the best in the world. In 2000, some 2.14 million science and technology degrees and doctorates were awarded in Europe, which is more than in the United States (2.07 million) or Japan (1.1 million). It also leads its two main rivals in terms of the number of publications in science journals. Yet Europe has far fewer jobs for its researchers (5.4 per 1 000 active workers, compared with 8.7 in the United States and 9.4 in Japan). This failure to use a remarkable potential in human resources is the real Achilles' heel of the European Research Area. A growing number of scientists and technicians who decide to undertake research in the United States never return. Once in the US, almost 75% of science or technology doctors decide to pursue their careers across the Atlantic.

This new diagnosis confirms what we know already - although capable of producing excellence, Europe is finding it increasingly difficult to capitalise on it. Although it shows a creditable performance in some fields (such as medical research, chemistry, aeronautics or telecommunications), it is falling ever further behind in biotechnology and the information technologies. Overall, its performance in terms of trade in high technology is continuing to deteriorate: its trade deficit in this field increased from €9 billion in 1995 to €48 billion in 2000. A clear indicator of this competitive weakness is the falling share of patent registrations of European origin, whether on the European or the US market. But there is one ray of hope: in the nanotechnologies, a sector with a particularly promising future, Europe is level pegging with the United States, in terms of publications and patents.

The remedy is known. The only way to stop the decline is to increase European investment in research. 'This report is not just a study, it is a political tool,' remarked Commissioner Philippe Busquin. These new indicators reinforce the now famous '3% by 2010' target and the need to give real impetus to the European Research Area.

To find out more

Number of science and engineering doctors in the 25-34 age group.(‰)
Number of science and engineering doctors in the 25-34 age group.

Number of researchers per 1 000 active workers
Number of researchers per 1 000 active workers

Bullet 2002 research report

The Research Directorate-General has released its annual report for the period from January 2001 to March 2002. This was a period which brought many political innovations, with the implementation of the European Research Area and preparations for the Sixth Framework Programme.

During this period almost 5 000 contracts involving more than 23 000 partners received funding of almost €3.7 billion, 82% of which was allocated to shared cost projects. SMEs were much in evidence, with 4 600 of them receiving funding which exceeded the target of 15% of total funding. Researchers from the candidate countries represented more than 10% of the total.

To find out more International co-operation

International Co-Operation
Bullet Important INTAS call

INTAS, the association for the promotion of co-operation with the Newly Independent States (NIS) of the former USSR, has launched its 2003 call for proposals. The total budget is €25.2 million.

The financing applies to any kind of fundamental or applied research project or network creation (€18.2 million), as well as four specific calls of €1 million each for Belarus, and for participation in the activities of the CERN, the GSI (Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung, Darmstadt) and the CNES. The closing date for these calls is 13 June 2003.

Fellowships amounting to €2.5 million will also be available for young researchers from the NIS and another €500 000 in the form of innovation grants. The closing date for these two calls is 11 July 2003.

To find out more

On the public opinion front
Bullet Energy: must try harder!

Strangely underestimating the role of personal transport in the energy equation, Europeans do not seem much inclined to change their habits.Strangely underestimating the role of personal transport in the energy equation, Europeans do not seem much inclined to change their habits.

Energy is at the heart of a paradox, highlighted by the publication of a recent Eurobarometer survey carried out among 16 000 European citizens. An overwhelming majority of Europeans are concerned at the threat energy consumption poses to the climate. Most Europeans also say they favour renewable energy and research in this field. Yet most Europeans do not feel that their own behaviour needs to be called into question. Industry is seen as the main culprit, and, no doubt, to an unfair degree as many companies are very concerned about energy savings and reducing polluting emissions. While many of those interviewed are aware of the importance of saving energy (through insulation and more energy-efficient devices) they underestimate the role of personal transport in the energy equation. In short, Europeans show little inclination to change their habits.

To find out more: era_nne_study_report.pdf

Bullet Biosciences: slow progress?

Closely monitored for the past decade, the uncertain opinions of Europeans on biotechnology were polled, in 2002, for the fifth time. Although overall distrust of the life sciences had increased continuously until 1996 - except when applied to medicine - the latest Eurobarometer results, published in March, show that the situation has tended to stabilise. As in 1999, almost half of all respondents are optimistic that progress in this field will bring improvements to the quality of life. The sticking point remains the use of GMOs in agriculture and the food industry. Any acknowledgement of the benefits continues to be outweighed by the overwhelming sentiment of the risk they pose, even if certain countries such as Spain or Portugal in the South, and Finland and Ireland in the North, are exceptions to the blanket rejection.

'This climate of scepticism is encouraging European biotechnological companies and research centres to set up elsewhere,' commented Commissioner Philippe Busquin. 'If we do not reverse the trend now, we will be unable to enjoy all the benefits from the revolution in the life sciences and will become dependent on technologies developed elsewhere. Now that we finally have strict Community legislation in this field, there is no reason to fuel unjustified fears or prejudices.'

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A little clarification
Bullet  On the wrong track…

In our dossier on superconductivity in issue 36 of RTD info, the photograph with caption on page 8 of a prototype of the Maglev Transrapid train, which was used to illustrate the opportunities opened up by magnetic levitation, were likely to cause confusion. The same is true of the mention of the Transrapid being inaugurated in Shanghai in December 2002.

In fact, this German technology does not at present use magnetic fields obtained using superconducting materials, but rather uses traditional electromagnets. Only the United States and Japan have to date tested the Maglev train using superconductivity.

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Bullet Call for experts

In the previous issue, we mentioned the call for experts launched by the Commission for the evaluation of projects submitted following calls for proposals for implementation of the Sixth Framework Programme. We should point out that when applications from experts are submitted by research organisations and not individuals, these bodies must not present the members of their in-house teams but only external candidates whose expertise they appreciate and who they recommend.

We would also remind you that the Research Directorate-General aims to have women make up 40% of members of evaluation panels and expert committees.

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