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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research Special issue - November 2005   
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INTERNET
Title  Science on the web: three Nordic experiences

The World Wide Web has countless sites offering internauts in a given country daily updates, in their own language, on sport and entertainment – but very rarely on science. Hence the originality of  kennislink.nl in the Netherlands, forskning.no in Norway and forskning.se in Sweden, each of which offers, in its own way, an almost real-time reporting of national science news.

Science on the web: three Nordic experiences
It is not by chance that these three sites were created in small countries with an acknowledged scientific level of excellence. While the some 45 000 Swedish or Dutch researchers and 20 000 Norwegian researchers are certainly recognised by fellow researchers worldwide, their work is in danger of going unnoticed by their fellow countrymen due to the sheer volume of scientific information constantly circulating around the globe. Smaller than in Germany, France or the United Kingdom, and concentrated at a more limited number of institutes and universities, their scientific communities are also more closely knit.

No doubt it is this cohesion that made it possible to enlist the support of nearly all the scientific institutions in each of these countries for the launch, soon after the turn of the century, of these portals for national science news. Kennislink.nl, forskning.no and forskning.se share the same ambition of encouraging knowledge of, interest in and enthusiasm for research – and ‘home-grown’ research in particular. They are all accessible to the general public, with forskning.no appealing more particularly to younger people. And they all make extensive use of the internet’s educational and interactive possibilities with features such as animations, video sequences, forums and experts answering questions from the public.

One goal, three methods
Nevertheless, a look behind the scenes soon shows that each of these three sites operates very differently. At kennislink.nl (or ‘knowledge link’) the emphasis is on networking. The 70 or so partners, essentially comprising the country’s principal scientific bodies and higher education establishments, use the site as a common publication platform. They each post their information or press releases that the editorial team, which includes five journalists, then prepares for on-line publication in the appropriate context. kennislink.nl seeks to benefit from this network structure to develop interactivity and involve the public. One of its principal initiatives in this respect is the annual influenza study. Every year, some 30 000 Dutch-speaking volunteers from the Netherlands and Belgium complete an on-line questionnaire on their state of health. This provides researchers with valuable information on the extent of the annual epidemic while the contributors who, thanks to a partnership with schools, include many schoolchildren, gain a better understanding of the often misunderstood science of epidemiology. 

By contrast, forskning.se (literally research.se) opts for a more centralised approach. The information is provided directly by the eight Swedish scientific institutes operating the site. The editorial team (which does not include any journalists) does not interfere with the text content, simply putting it into the right multimedia form. An efficient archiving system enables users to obtain a unique and exhaustive panorama of ongoing research at Swedish laboratories.

Lying somewhere between these two models of networking, on the one hand, and centralised dissemination on the other, the forskning.no approach is to “publish what the internauts want to read rather than what the laboratories want to say”. The information submitted by the member scientific organisations is thus scrutinised systematically by the team of four journalists who were also responsible for recently relaunching the Norwegian Association of Scientific Journalists. In addition, the site operates as a press agency, providing the national media with key articles in the field of scientific news.

Comprehensiveness or legibility, interactivity or reliability? All those interested in the dissemination of scientific and technological knowledge have had to reflect on these dilemmas at some point. Kennislink.nl, forskning.no and forskning.se each provides different answers, answers from which everybody can learn… provided you can read Dutch, Norwegian or Swedish.

    
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