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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research Special issue - November 2005   
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SCIENCE AND GOVERNANCE
Title  Risks, benefits and ethics

On what criteria should we base our technological choices? What influence should be exercised by scientists, politicians, lobbies and citizens? And who do Europeans really trust?

Science, risks, benefits and ethics
What elements should motivate decisions in the field of science and technology? The S&T survey proposes two alternatives: an analysis of the risks and benefits, or of the moral and ethical consequences.

Half of European citizens opt for risks and benefits while a third give priority to the moral and ethical considerations that underlie research choices. The people of Greece (70%), Hungary (67%), and also Romania among the non-EU countries (68%), vote predominantly for the former, with relatively more Norwegians, Swedes and Icelanders choosing the latter.  

When considering the balance between risks and benefits, 66% of respondents (EU-25) believe it is better to follow the advice of experts rather than the general public. But this percentage varies quite widely, the Finns placing most trust in the views of scientists (83%) and the Portuguese the least (48%). 

One European in two believes that a scientific project or programme must be stopped if the risks are not fully understood. Among respondents who favour the precautionary principle, 54% nevertheless admit that attaching too much importance to the potential dangers can result in missing out on possible progress, while 24% believe that precaution is not at all a brake on technological innovation. 

Groups and associations
Graph: Levels of influence of people and groups involved in science and technology
Click to enlarge
Levels of influence
Do you think that these people and groups involved in science and technology have a positive or negative effect on society? Source: Eurobarometre S&V
When European citizens are asked (SV Eurobarometer) whether certain professional groups or associations, etc. involved in science and technology have a positive or negative influence, their replies express a great deal of confidence in them (1) (see graph). Scientists working at universities enjoy the most confidence and public authorities the least – although with a 73% confidence rating even the latter do well. Newspapers and magazines do very well: 83% of respondents believe they have a positive effect, while television reporting receives an 86% approval rating (EU-25).

Consumer organisations and environmental groups (with 86% and 80% respectively for the EU-25) achieve the highest scores in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Malta and Cyprus. 

Animal rights groups also meet with approval: an average 77% giving them the thumbs up, but also with some rather erratic scores, with just 49% in Bulgaria and 58% for the United Kingdom that is reputed to be a nation of animal lovers.

People with above average confidence in these various associations are those identified as “reflecting on the meaning of life”.

Public authorities
The Social Values surveyors asked about perceptions of the role of the public authorities in science and technology. Three-quarters of respondents gave an essentially “positive” appraisal of their role in managing risks related to the new technologies (78%) and their power in “regulating” science and technology. This regulating role is also accorded to the same degree to action by the European Union that applies to all the Member States. Among the most educated, this score climbs to 83% and among the Cypriots and Greeks it is as high as 90% and 86% respectively. It is in Northern Europe, in Sweden (54%), that the European Union’s action is least appreciated.

“These results show that in cases of potential conflict between a scientific application and the individual’s ethical values, the regulating responsibilities of the European Commission are recognised,” believe the EOS Gallup Europe rapporteurs. 

(1) The answers to this question in the SV survey are quite different to those concerning trust in those recognised as most adequately explaining the implications of science (see A mixture of confidence scepticism).


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  Risks, benefits and ethics
  What do we expect from European research?
  Having your say

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For every three European citizens, one expresses confidence in the checks and regulations that industrial research must respect (with the Finns ranking top), another thinks the opposite (especially the Poles, the Czechs and the Danes), while a third gives no opinion.

 


   
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Features 1 2 3


For every three European citizens, one expresses confidence in the checks and regulations that industrial research must respect (with the Finns ranking top), another thinks the opposite (especially the Poles, the Czechs and the Danes), while a third gives no opinion.

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