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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 40 - February 2004   
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 TABLE OF CONTENTS
 EDITORIAL
 Taking the pollution out of health care
 Ice seasons
 The class of 2003
 Researchers on the high seas
 Protecting the 'whistle-blowers'
 The Prigogine legacy
 The sounds of Ethiopia
 COMMUNICATING SCIENCE
 IN BRIEF
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OPINION Printable version


The words which govern us

Politicians and media people, always the centre of attention in our societies, tend to “dumb down” their message. Rather than explaining, they generally prefer to over-simplify, so as to reach – they believe – the greatest number of people. In this context, economists, scientists, lawyers and philosophers find it hard to be heard. On the rare occasions when they do manage to communicate an important notion, then the mass communication experts run it through their mill to reduce the thought to its most simplistic expression. ‘Too complicated, sum it up in 20 seconds!’

Here, in no particular order, is a selection of the kind of principles which govern us. First of all, we have the very amusing 'precautionary principle’ which, despite its air of scientific caution, could perhaps best be summed up as ‘the less is known, the more notice is taken of it’.

Another favourite of mine is the already hackneyed 'subsidiarity principle' that some wags would say consists of ‘letting everyone do badly what they think they can do better than anyone else’. My attention has also been drawn to the very recent dogma of 'enlargement' by which it would appear reasonable to ‘try and get 25 to do that which 15 is already too many to do successfully’.

And what about the '3% pact'? The term employed by our leaders to allow themselves to ‘exceed a maximum budget deficit of 3% of gross domestic product (GDP)’. Something which must certainly not be confused with the '3% commitment' which causes the very same leaders to ‘make no visible effort to allocate a minimum 3% of GDP to research’.

I also have a soft spot for 'sustainable development', which is blithely used on all occasions when speaking of any remotely green subject, as well as its cousin 'Agenda 21', very few of whose admirers are aware that it refers to their own action programme for the new century.

In this total confusion of values, notions of minimum, maximum, logic or efficiency no longer mean anything to anybody. Scientific vocations grow rarer, young Europeans dream in their masses of becoming singers, our citizens are unable to count without a calculator... and yet Europe remains in the making. I feel a great sense of satisfaction in thinking that democracy in general, and in Europe in particular, must be exceptionally robust to have withstood, to date, such shoddy treatment.

Candide

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