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COMMUNICATING SCIENCE

CER 2005 - November rendezvous

Logo CER 2005
Do journalists report science accurately? Should researchers go out on to the street? What are the limits to the popularising of science? What happens behind the scenes in museums? What does the future hold for science publications? How should science be presented on radio and TV, on the internet and in schools? Do science cafés produce genuine debate? What is the difference between communication and information? Do researchers shun the public? Is the public indifferent to research? There will certainly be no shortage of questions to be addressed at the next CER (Communicating European Research) meeting!

This open-debate approach to a wide range of issues, that proved such a success at the first CER meeting in 2004, will be repeated at the second CER conference, to be held in Brussels on 14 and 15 November. It will be an opportunity for scientists, communication professionals and journalists to present their ideas and discuss the issues during the debates, speeches, presentations of success stories, informal meetings and targeted work sessions.

There will an exhibition on European research with the focus on science communication, and the opportunity, through the Participants’ Forum, for participants to submit their own proposals for round tables, workshops, network meetings, etc. There will be regular press conferences throughout the day and the conference will end with a presentation of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Development (2007-2013).

Museums - "Science centres are appreciated for their ability to capture the interest of young people by allowing them to ‘play’ with scientific devices – to such an extent that this is all we are known for. Yet hundreds of scientists are engaged directly in research at many of our centres. Also, our activities often create a major media impact and we are directly responsible for certain media events. Science museums and centres are much more than playgrounds. They are genuine potential partners in communicating research.” Walter Staveloz - Ecsite (European network of science centres and museums)

On the street - "Street science takes science out of the institutions and museums and allows people to engage in dialogue on neutral ground in their usual surroundings. Pedestrian streets, shopping centres and even prisons are popular venues where scientists can meet a whole new audience.” Mikkel Bohm - Euscea (European science events association)

Sharing - "The knowledge-based society is not created by itself. Those who have knowledge need to share their vision of understanding nature and human activities, otherwise they will find themselves in an isolated ivory tower without too much support or interaction with society.” Jens Degett - Euroscience

Schools - “Initiatives directed at pupils and students or through teachers, who can act as multipliers of positive action, can provide high motivation for students to follow a scientific career. The highly successful ‘Physics on Stage’, produced by EIROforum, has demonstrated the clear benefits of bringing different actors together from science and education in a transnational dialogue.” Silke Schumacher - EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory)

Radio - Are the sound waves, or other audio technologies, the best place to forge a mature relationship between science and society? What makes a good science story for radio? Is language a real barrier to communicating European research? Our project seeks to explore the role of science in radio broadcasting and evaluate its impact on the public. Elisabetta Tola - Scirab (Science in Radio Broadcasting)

Television - ”Why should there be more programmes about science on television? Because science and research have a public and social function. They are important for all of us, for our societies, our well-being, our economic growth and technological progress. And because science and research offer opportunities and risks. That is why we must be informed.” Laura Longobardi - EBU (European Broadcasting Union)

Culture - "We are moving from an industrial society to a knowledge society in which access to information and cultural issues is essential. But in reality our educational system and our media lack intellectual reflection and do not place issues in context. We need more education and increased critical abilities but our media are spreading a fast-thinking way of life. How are the internet and other new information technologies changing the traditional way of disseminating scientific news? Could we communicate science with text messages?” Vladimir de Semir - President of the PCST (International Network on Public Communication of Science and Technology)

Nano questions

Nano Ring © Ghim Wei Ho-Mark Welland
Nano Ring
© Ghim Wei Ho-Mark Welland
A human hair measures about 80 000 nanometres in width. One nanometre is one millionth of a millimetre. This infinitely small scale is used today in numerous technologies of interest to all fields of medicine, physics, chemistry and engineering. In particular, ‘nanos’ could enable progress in treating cancer or enhance the power and speed of electronic processors. A European survey and a debate in London between scientists and citizens are testimony to the experts’ desire to listen and to inform on the many implications of this minute universe.

Nanoforum…

What is the impact of nanotechnologies and nanosciences (N&N)? What is Europe’s position in this field? Is there a need for codes of good practice and ethical boundaries as in research in the life sciences, for example? The Nanoforum organisation, in co-operation with the European Commission, carried out a vast on-line survey (720 responses from 32 European countries) to explore these and other questions, interviewing researchers, journalists, teachers and industrialists. Some questions met with a resounding ‘yes’. The nanotechnologies will indeed have an impact on European industry (90%) and on European citizens (80%) within the next decade. Europe could face a shortage of researchers in these specialities, which also require interdisciplinary knowledge and approaches (90%). Co-operation with the developed countries (96%) – as well as the developing countries (76%) – is important and an international code of good conduct would be welcomed (87%). 79% of those interviewed also believe that the funding of R&D in this field should receive strong support from the Research Framework Programme, especially as Europe is seen as ‘lagging far behind’ the United States (76%).

The complete survey can be consulted on-line in the Outcome of the Open Consultation on the European Strategy for Nanotechnology report on the Nanoforum website [ http://www.nanoforum.org/ ].

and the Nano Jury

Bucky Earth © Chris Ewels
Bucky Earth
© Chris Ewels
But who really exercises control over this ‘nanoworld’ and where is it taking us? In 2003, the British Government commissioned a study on the development of nanotechnologies and the new ethical, security, health and social issues that could be raised as a result and that would fall outside the scope of present legislation. It is a debate that is currently raging among members of the British scientific world who are determined to engage the public in their work and the challenges they face. “We learned the lessons in other fields, such as GMOs, where science and the applications of science were disconnected from the general public,” believes Mark Welland, professor of nanotechnologies at Cambridge University, interviewed by The Guardian newspaper.

Mark Welland is a member of the Nano Jury who will be meeting in London in September. For five weeks, a number of experts will hear the comments, fears, recommendations and questions of around 20 non-specialists and engage in informal discussions with them on the prospects and uncertainties of the nanotechnologies. This is a public who asked to participate in the debate and who are therefore interested in the subject. The dialogue between members of the public and the scientists will also extend to the approach adopted by research. For Mark Welland, “apart from a finally favourable or unfavourable response on the part of the jury, the value of this experience lies in learning how science and technology must take on-board public understanding when defining who is to assume responsibility for the nanotechnologies.”

Joining the YEBN

Members of the YEBN at the Science and Society Conference organised in Brussels last March by the Research DG.
Members of the YEBN at the Science and Society Conference organised in Brussels last March by the Research DG.
The idea was launched at the Biotechnica fair, in Hanover, in 2001: to build bridges between all those involved in the life sciences. Since then the Young European Biotech Network (YEBN) has become a virtual space full of very concrete information, much of which is supplied by network members. The latest news and discoveries, useful links, bibliographical information, job offers and more are all now available on the website. Membership of the association, organised in national sections, brings the opportunity to attend conferences and exhibitions, participate in group discussions and meet others with the same passionate interest. The very dynamic YEBN members can be found just about everywhere the biotechnologies are presented or discussed – at the last Science and Society Conference organised by DG Research, for example, and at the Lisbon Biotechnology Days at the beginning of June. The organisation is a subsidiary of the European Federation of Biology (EFB) and operates with its own funds and volunteer staff. The primary interest is the applied sciences and opportunities for research in industry. The message for potential members? “Network membership is of vital importance, not only for your career and for information, but sometimes simply for the fun of it…”

Sophie K on the Avignon stage

Sophie K on the Avignon stage
"It would be tempting to say that it was Harvard President Larry Summers and his recent gaffe about the female brain being unable to do maths that gave us the idea for a play about Sophia Kovalesvskaïa," explains Jean-François Peyret, co-author and director of Le Cas de Sophie K, being presented this summer at the famous Avignon Festival (FR). A mathematician and campaigner for women’s rights in the mid-19th century, Sophie had to fight to be allowed to attend maths classes at a time when the doors of the university were closed to her. Working outside the lecture theatres with recognised mathematicians, she embarked on research on abelian integrals and published a study on the rotation of bodies around a fixed point, for which she was awarded the Paris Academy of Sciences prize in 1988. She then became the first woman to be awarded the mathematics chair at Stockholm University. Sophie K certainly lived life to the full, experiencing the days of the Paris Commune and also writing a novel (Une nihiliste) before sadly dying at a relatively young age.

"Our interest is not only historical as we also sought to examine Sophie’s heritage and what today’s scientists would make of her work,” continues Peyret. “That is why this show will be performed in the presence of scientists – and with their assistance in exploring some of the issues further. “

The play is supported by the Research DG and is part of the ‘Researchers in Europe 2005’ events.

Skywatchers get ready!

The Sun, the Planets and Moons, the Asteroids, the Birth and Death of Stars, the Galaxies: these are the five sections for amateur scientists who want to enter the Skywatch contest. There are also three age groups: up to 15 years old, 15-18 years old, and adults. The individual or joint projects (maximum two people) must be submitted by 30 September and the contest is organised in three phases. During the first phase, participants use a database of astronomical observations made by members of the Skywatch network to produce a project on a subject of their choice (an example on the subject of galaxies is available on the website). An initial procedure will select ten projects per age category. During the second phase, participants will further develop their work, taking particular account of changing parameters (weather conditions, visibility of heavenly objects) that interfere with astronomical observations. At this point, the 30 selected individuals or pairs can request specific observations by the SkyWatch Network of Robotic Telescopes.

The jury will consider both phases of the work in reaching their decision on the final three winning entries for each age category. The prize will be access for one year to the Liverpool telescope installations (UK). The Winners will be announced during European Science Week, from 21-25 November.

The night of 23 September

This will be the night of European researchers. Throughout the continent, they will be out and about: in the streets and the science cafés, and at theatres, cinemas and museums. Organised by DG Research as part of the Researchers in Europe 2005 initiative, the event aims to bring together people – especially young people – and researchers by means of a number of fun yet informative events. This is just one way of conveying the message that scientific research is a fascinating activity and that those who practice it are anything but a remote group beavering away in their ivory towers.

The night of 23 September is one of a series of events, some beginning in June and others running through to the end of November.