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Last Updated: January 19, 2001
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Letters

The 'post-normal' science

In addition to advancing knowledge and improving practice, science is now being called on to assist in the protection of people and the environment, and to contribute to sustainability in industry and in lifestyles. In this, 'precaution' has become a new guiding principle.

When they are engaged on these tasks, researchers are now frequently in a situation where facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent. They must appreciate that their expertise is but one among several elements of a policy processes. Their contributions can help to define the range of possible outcomes, but they can not determine unique policy solutions. This context is so different from that of traditional research, that it is well described as 'post-normal'.

For the public, science is no longer a closed area of exclusive expertise. Rather, it is an endeavour which is open to comment, criticism and, some time, participation. In this way there develops an 'extended peer community', where those with different perspectives come to dialogue and to learn from each other.

This new post-normal style is coherent with the general movement towards greater public accountability and participation, which is now being articulated at many levels within the EU.

Silvio Funtowicz
ISIS (Joint Research Centre)
silvio.funtowicz@ec.europa.eu


What role for the universities?

Is Society willing to pay for the Core Business of Universities ?

In the last century, the universities have been tremendous knowledge factories, in creating new knowledge through research. This has given the material and basis for our modern society. As the second half of the last century also saw a vast increase in the number of students, we face a situation where almost half of future generations will take higher education in some form. Intellectual capital is considered to be the most important asset to secure a competitive national economy.

The core business of universities has become the core business of society. But this awareness also has its consequences. Politicians want visible return on the money spent. As a consequence, there are new demands on the universities. They are expected to contribute more directly to innovation and economic activity through contract research and in helping to establish new companies based on the research results obtained by their professors. At the same time, new actors are entering the educational market.

By demanding too much from universities, society weakens the core business of research and education. The key question now is whether society is willing to pay for the added value universities represent, namely a broad intellectual environment that provides a basis for the widest possible understanding and the healthy development of society.


Emil Spjøtvoll,
Rector of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology
emil.spjotvoll@adm.ntnu.no


Social sciences and nuclear research

Extract from a letter from Erik Laes, researcher at the SCK-CEN (Studiecentrum voor Kernergie - Centre d'Etude de l'Energie Nucléaire) in Mol.

In 'the age of risk', people feel insecure about the future. In this social context of uncertainty, a new concept for policy making at the global and local level has emerged: Sustainable Development. At present, the nuclear expert is struggling with society, and he paradoxically lacks a scientific approach and insight in complex human behaviour and societal interaction. SCK-CEN already had some experience with multidisciplinary projects (e.g. extending the research on nuclear complexity to economics and liability), but in 1998 the board of directors decided to integrate social sciences in a more co-ordinated way.

An original transdisciplinary approach was set up. A horizontal program manager is co-ordinating 4 projects, joining 4 senior project leaders, 7 young scientists in social sciences and humanities, and interested SCK-CEN experts. University professors and experts from different disciplines and backgrounds accompany the projects. All researchers involved meet monthly in two reflection groups, with active participation of SCK-CEN's top management. These working groups are discussing two broad items: ethical choices in radiation protection - focussing on ALARA(1) and the precautionary principle within the context of new trends in low dose effects, such as genetic susceptibility - and nuclear expert: role and culture - analysing expert attitudes, behaviour and dilemmas in nuclear problem solving and communication. The four projects are:

  • legal aspects and liability - trying to bridge the gap between law and complex technology;
  • sustainability and nuclear development - looking through Technology Assessment on criteria for Sustainable Development;
  • transgenerational ethics related to the disposal of long-lived radwaste - exploring ethical aspects when dealing with the time scales under consideration;
  • emergency communication and risk perception - studying risk perception in the situation of a nuclear incident or accident and its relation with communication and emergency management.

The restoration of trust will require the integration of humanities and social sciences in a transdisciplinary problem solving approach, far beyond the technical dimension. Members of the academic community who show interest in our projects can always contact us.

(1) Editor's note: general principle of radioprotection whereby exposure to these rays is As Low As Reasonably Achievable.

Erik Laes
Researcher on Sustainability and Nuclear Development SCK-CEN - Mol (Belgium)
elaes@sckcen.be


When it comes to numbers

  • Climate: the beginnings of certainty

    In the latest report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), climatologists are increasingly categoric about the process of global warming. The 20th century saw an overall rise in the temperature of the earth's atmosphere of around 0.6°C - the biggest increase for a thousand years - and this was most marked during the last decade when 1998 beat all records. During the second half of the century, the area of snow cover in winter on land and of ice on seas in the Northern Hemisphere during spring and summer fell by approximately 10-15%, with a 40% reduction in the thickness of the Arctic ice field over recent years. Sea levels have risen by an average of 10-20 cm over the past 100 years. Climatologists predict an increase in the globe's average temperature of 1.5-6°C before the end of the century (as opposed to the 1.0-3.5°C announced in 1995) and a rise in sea levels of 0.15-0.80 metres.

  • The latest S&T indicators

    The figures below are taken from a new booklet, 'Science, Technology and Innovation - Key Figures 2000', which summarises the results of analyses of comparative development indicators for the research and development performances of the European Union, its Member States, the United States and Japan.

    Contact: Jean Bourlès,
    Research DG
    jean.bourles@ec.europa.eu

  • Job creation

    In 1999, technology-intensive industrial and services activities represented just 20% of total employment in the Union, but experienced a job creation dynamic double that of the rest of the 'traditional' economy (1.7% compared to 0.9% in industry and 6.4% compared to 3% in the services).

  • Investment in the knowledge-based society

    The percentage of GDP devoted to research by the EU remains low and stationary (1.8% since 1994), whereas - following a temporary dip - R&D investments by its competitors now show a clear increase (2.7% of GDP in the United States and 3.1% in Japan).

  • Human potential

    Just 5.1% of the EU's working population is employed in research, compared to 7.4% in the USA and 8.9% in Japan. The difference is even more marked if only research posts offered directly by industry are taken into account.

  • Scientific production

    In 1998, 37.8% of scientific works published worldwide came from Europeans (an increase of 1.7% on the previous year), with the Americans publishing 32.9% (down by 2.1%). But it was US publications that were the most frequently cited (51%), despite an increase in European citations (up by 2.1% to 38.2%). 53% of patents registered in Europe come from outside the EU, whereas the share of patents registered by EU countries on the US and Japanese markets remains very small.

  • Intensity of trans-European cooperation

    Indicators of cooperation between companies engaged in innovative activities give a clear lead to the Scandinavian countries.


Contact

Michel Claessens
Fax: +32-2-295.82.20
e-mail : michel.claessens@ec.europa.eu

     
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