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Biotechnology, agriculture and food

Getting people talking about biotechnology

Background description

Scientific advances can make a great contribution to human welfare but as science gets more abstruse and difficult, it also becomes more alienating. Biotechnology topics, like genetic modification, cloning and biodiversity, raise many legal and ethical concerns, so it is important that people understand the issues that are raised and feel able to express their opinions. Young scientists and research students can be powerful ambassadors for their chosen field – their enthusiasm helps to overcome difficulties in communication. The EU also wants to target the educational sector, opinion formers, economists and lawyers, in grass-roots measures to encourage a debate on issues generated by developments in the life sciences.

Profile

The EU has had a policy to improve communication between scientists and citizens for a long time. In FP5, the Science Generation project adopted measures to bridge the gap between science and society in the life sciences. It gave concerned citizens – parents, pupils and teachers – a voice, mobilising channels of communication with scientists, lawyers, economists, educationalists, students and politicians. International workshops and on-line debate encouraged a broad exchange of views and wider information activities. Many local meetings followed in participating countries and a web platform broadened access to the debate.

The BioPop project promotes public debate and communication about life sciences through the medium of several European associations for young scientists, whose members are students or just starting their scientific careers. They are organising popular events, in the style of outdoor laboratories with music and entertainment, to stimulate discussions on bioethics, food safety and other topics, and to engage their audiences in a lively exchange of ideas.

Full project title: Pilot study on innovative approaches to public communication of life sciences and biotechnology by students and young researchers
Project acronym: BioPop
EU funding: €354 500
Duration: 24 months
Project coordinator: Francesco Lescai, Association of Italian Biotechnologists
Website
European Commission contact person: Elisabetta Balzi

Science in society significance

The Science Generation project has built on existing community spirit through regional discussion groups. It has helped to make science more accessible to ordinary citizens and to show them how science contributes to everyday life. This enhanced understanding reinforces the effects of the EU’s life sciences and biotechnology programmes by removing barriers between experts and lay people. The BioPop project promotes a new model for public participation in the debate about the purpose of science, between citizens and real students and scientists rather than faceless institutions. It will increase the confidence of European consumers in the relevance and probity of scientific endeavour and encourage them to share their opinions about the goals and morals of contemporary life sciences.

Expected results/outcomes

  • Pupils and citizens will be more open to scientific ideas;
  • Citizens will have a better appreciation of how science can increase solidarity between rich and poor nations;
  • Public debate will be encouraged on bioethical issues;
  • Better understanding of scientific aims should make the public more open to new ideas and products;
  • Students and young scientists will be more aware of public concerns;
  • The media will be more sympathetic to scientific issues and less prone to scaremongering.

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