Science is part of almost every aspect of our lives. Although we rarely think about it, science makes extraordinary things possible. At the flick of a switch, we have light and electricity. When we are ill, science helps us get better. It tells us about the past, helps us with the present, and creates ways to improve our future. Scientific endeavour is as much about us as it is for us. Its place in society, therefore, is not to unfold quietly at the sidelines but to become a fundamental part of the game. Now more than ever, science must engage with us, and we must engage with science.
There are times when science can seem to lose its connection to society and its needs, and sometimes its objectives are not fully understood, even if they are well intended. The lack of a common language and rapid progress in many areas of research has increased the public's concern or contributed to ambivalence about the role that science and technology play in everyday life. But science cannot work in isolation, and advances in science and technology are not an objective in their own right.
Of course, while new developments can improve our quality of life and understanding of the world, scientists and policymakers may not always properly assess the potential risks or take full account of the public's concerns. Opportunities must be created for scientists and the general public to exchange views in a two-way dialogue of mutual respect and trust.
With the pace that the world keeps and the speed with which technology advances, an understanding of science is a crucial part of a rounded education. Moreover, Europe needs more scientists and more people skilled in science and technology in order to compete in the global arena. It is, however, becoming increasingly difficult to attract young people to science careers. There is also a clear gender imbalance in science, engineering and technology: while 59 % of graduates in EU universities are female, only 18 % of professors are women.
The European Union believes that activities in support of these important objectives need to be underpinned by sound knowledge, and has continued to commit resources under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) to make this happen.
The Science in Society (SIS) Programme addresses societal engagement from many perspectives, such as encouraging dialogue between scientists and other members of the public, by promoting an adherence to ethical standards, and by developing better ways for the results of research to be accessed by all. The SIS Programme also supports new ways to interest young people in science and in research careers, and new ways to achieve greater gender equality in science.
The SIS Programme has also been charged with the responsibility of supporting the following specific research activities: the connection between science, democracy and law; ethics in science and technology; the reciprocal influence of science and culture; the role and image of scientists; gender aspects; science education methods; and science communication.