A CERtain way of keeping society informed
Thanks to efforts by the European Union to open – and drive – the science and society debate, the idea of science taking place in an ivory tower is becoming a thing of the past. Today, scientists appreciate that their work affects – and is affected by – societal issues and concerns. Networking and awareness-raising activities, such as the successful Communicating European Research (CER) 2005 conference, prove that bringing all the stakeholders – scientists, the media, policy-makers and science communicators – together under the one roof can produce lasting results.
First hosted in 2004, the Communicating European Research conference was born out of a clear need – well documented in Eurobarometer surveys of the public perception of science and scientists – to build bridges between science and society. The European Commission’s Research Directorate- General looked long and hard at how this should be done. The foundations had already been laid with the creation of a dedicated ‘Science and Society’ programme in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6, 2002-2006) for research, but something special was still needed.
Stories portraying scientists as crazed boffins out to clone the human race and inflict pain on test animals were hurting science’s image. So, any initiative aimed at closing the science-society divide, the Commission realised, had to fully involve the media and the growing science intermediary organisations and agencies. The result was CER 2004. So successful was this event that it was repeated a year later. But this time it was bigger, longer and with a much more ambitious programme, tackling everything from science education and ethics to scholarly publishing, science on TV or mobiles, and the genetically modified ‘frankenfood’ debate.
Full title: Communicating European Research, 14-15 November 2005
Acronym: CER 2005
Science in society significance
The CER 2005 event drew thousands of stakeholders, including scientists, policy-makers and civil society organisations from all over the world. But significantly, it also attracted hundreds of media representatives, from newspaper and TV journalists through to regional and local reporters and science communication agencies and professionals. Press monitoring in the days and weeks that followed showed strong coverage – both on-line and in print – of the event itself and, perhaps more importantly, stories of individual EU research-in-action successes.
Thus, Europeans were made aware of the efforts being undertaken at EU level to ensure that research results are made public. They were also introduced to the huge range of research being carried out, from life science and nano-science projects to basic research and applied social sciences. And they were given insight into how policy is converted to action, and how EU-funded projects, in particular, are improving European competitiveness and knowledge creation. But perhaps most telling, delegates learned how these measures help to maintain and improve European quality of life.
November 2005 saw the second CER conference, held at the Heysel Centre in Brussels. Over 2 500 scientists, media professionals and policy-makers came together for two days of debates, forums, training sessions and discussion groups on how to improve communication of science and technology. The event included an expo of some 240 stands and showcased results of European research projects during special press briefings.
What is more, all delegates were asked to vote for their favourite session, stand and speaker.
The prizes went to:
- The Talking Nano session, chaired by Richard Hayhurst of 4Bio (UK) and featuring three EU-funded nanotechnology research projects, won best forum.
- Dr Lars-Peter Linke of Cognos AG (Germany) won best speaker, leading sessions on media skills for project managers.
- ITER, which showed the way to fusion energy, giving information about the ITER international fusion energy project, won best stand.