We are doing science for policy
The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
The Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) 2010 in Torino featured a strong presence of the JRC, with 14 scientific sessions by JRC scientists as well as a number of high profile science-related communication activities.
If nuclear energy has to contribute to the fulfilment of growing energy needs and to the diversification of energy sources, an optimized sustainable use of nuclear fuel has to be implemented. The most recurrent issue of concern expressed by the public with respect to nuclear energy is the safe disposal of long-lived, highly radioactive waste. In this context, the new concepts of nuclear reactors and related fuels aim at solving and/or minimizing issues associated with the current nuclear energy production technology, such as the quantity and life-time of high level waste. Achieving this poses significant challenges in terms of nuclear reactor and fuel design and fabrication, experimental characterization and modelling of the fuel behaviour.
In a climate of deep recession and profound revisiting of principles and worldviews, the relationship between science and policymaking assumes ever greater importance. Can it be “improved” and how? What would serve as indicators of “improvement”? These questions are both pertinent and far from trivial, as was shown in recent cases with global repercussions (recall the belated debate on the link between biofuels and food prices as food riots broke out in 2007-08, or the cavalier use by both banks and regulators of financial risk management based on 70s models and the normal distribution, which does not fit the data!). In this revisiting one should emphasise the role and future of universities, which provide a key platform for the science-policymaking interaction, furnishing advice, receiving funding, enshrining views and passing then on.
The EU's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) system shall provide the basis for sustainable spaceborn services in the environmental and the security area - so what do we have to expect from GMES on security? Will we all be monitored and traced from the sky in the future? Will crime only occur in cloudy nights? What is meant if satellite imagery experts talk about "real-time monitoring"? And can't we get it all from Google Earth?
The session will address the GMES policy impact in security as well as social concerns against "being monitored for security". It will give insight to the technical status of satellite imagery analysis for GMES, into the civil security areas that technically could evolve for Global Monitoring and into the dynamics of controls with remote sensing based on some examples (such as border security, maritime surveillance or detection of illegal activities).
Answers will be provided on the current and future capabilities of civil satellite sensors, covering optical and radar technologies. Recent results (inter alia from the European Commission's Joint Research Center) will assure that there is an up-to-date information also on the data analysis and data fusion side. The session will include two regional perspectives, namely the south-east European and the international / global.
Around 2% of adults (and 8% of children) suffer from food allergies across the globe. For some, the intake of even small amounts of an allergen can cause serious health problems - some of which can be life-threatening. To date there is no effective treatment available. Science provides the basis for food safety, while legislation ensures that appropriate controls are made to protect consumers. Incidences of food allergies appear to be increasing, and some argue that consumer fear and avoidance of certain foodstuffs may actually feedback and contribute to this increase. The scope of this symposium will range from suitable analytical methodology for the detection of allergen traces to policy requirements, health issues and communication
Our environment is changing at increased pace mainly due to anthropogenic activities. Changes such as global temperature increase, CO2 increase, and the emission of chemical pollutants could have deleterious effects on organisms, their communities, and ultimately on the health of ecosystems. In the past few years molecular biology techniques have revolutionised ecological research. The availability of inexpensive ways to genetically characterise individuals and species has allowed quantifying genetic diversity, tracking movement of individuals, characterising new species, and investigating interactions among the communities at ecosystem level.
One of these technologies is DNA microarray, which progressed rapidly in biological research for gene expression analysis. This analysis can also provide a global view of how organisms respond to stressors (such as chemical pollutants, UV light, temperature changes, etc.) and has a great potential role in discovering molecular biomarkers to anticipate the harmful effects of stressors in aquatic ecosystems. This will be an occasion for researchers to explain the role of molecular biology applied to environmental studies, and their contribution to understanding how the ecosystem will be affected by global change.
Both the US and the EU have recently undergone major administrative changes, which not only offer the potential for a restart in trans-Atlantic cooperation in tackling global challenges, but have equally triggered a debate about the role of science in policy-making. In appointing the former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), John Holdren, as his Science Adviser and Nobel Laureate, Stephen Chu, as his Secretary of Energy, the Obama Administration has put scientific evidence back into the core of the policy agenda. Similarly, the Barroso Commission has identified growth based on knowledge and innovation as key to its mandate and announced the creation of a Science Adviser post, while its independent research arm under Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the Joint Research Centre, is embarking on a new 10 year strategy responding to an ever-growing demand for customer-driven S&T support to policy-making.
In October 2009, the AAAS and JRC took the initiative of organising a Trans-Atlantic Workshop, bringing together 25 high-profile individuals from government, industry, academia, lobby groups etc, each with experiences of real-life scientific support to policy-making. This symposium will reveal what was identified in terms of best practices and pitfalls on both sides of the Atlantic. Speakers will evidence these findings with timely examples of “positive” and “negative” case-studies, exposing the facts as to why things worked or did not, who were the actors involved, what is/was at stake, and what conclusions we can draw about the bigger picture of “evidence based policy versus policy-biased evidence”.
Recent opinion polls regarding nanotechnology applications identify one particular sensitive area: the use of nanotechnology in food and feed. Consumer groups who demonstrate, in general, a positive attitude towards nanotechnology including applications in many consumer products are very negative towards nanotechnology in food.
The advent of nanotechnologies has brought enormous new prospects to a wide range of industrial sectors. At the same time, these pioneering processes, materials, and applications have raised fresh concerns over their safety to human health and the environment. Particularly sensitive areas of application include medicine, personal care products, agriculture and food, as well as those applications that involve the deliberate large-scale release of nanoparticles into the environment, such as water treatment and remediation of polluted soils.
This session will focus on state-of-the-knowledge studies of nanotechnology applications for the food sector, identify current knowledge gaps, and suggest possible ways forward. We will discuss the potential benefits and risks of the new technology and consider strategies on how to communicate them to the public without jeopardizing the wider benefits of the new technology to society. The session also addresses the apparent global absence of a nano-specific regulation.
Misunderstanding and widespread feelings of fear and danger still surround the issue of DNA patenting. The 1998 European Directive on protection of biotechnological inventions requires EU member states to recognise isolated genes and nucleotide sequences as patentable inventions. Recent rulings of the Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office have illustrated that patents can also be granted for methods of genetic testing without claiming genes themselves. These rulings upheld patents granted for BRCA1-related cancer tests, in the face of considerable opposition from European scientists, who consider DNA patents as a barrier to the progress of genomic research. However, there is not much empirical evidence on how patenting is affecting clinical genetic testing.
Two independent in-depth studies mapping the complex landscape of diagnostic DNA patents in the US and Europe have recently been conducted. These will be presented with a view to discussing the barriers, the opportunities, the actual and potential threats of DNA patenting trying to address some of the following key questions raised by the scientific world and by society: Is patenting affecting accessibility to genetic testing? Are prices higher because of the requirement of licenses? Is there a visible impact on test development as a result of patenting? Is DNA patenting a fair and reasonable way to encourage and protect innovation, or is it a threat to patient rights?
Promoting science in schools is an investment for the future. Who will be the next generation of scientists? As fewer students decide to follow a career in science, we need to sow the seeds of interest on a European level.
A tried and tested formula is to bring scientists' expertise into the classroom, while inviting students to experience real experiments in the laboratory. These activities seem to be quite effective: visits to laboratories for students and teachers (a joint initiative by JRC in Ispra and the Italian School Authority has resulted in an increase of more than 10% of students who chose science in the first year of secondary school since 2004); projects that allow students and teachers to exchange views about science in school; national science competitions to motivate students and teachers of science, art, technology and languages through interdisciplinary activities (e.g. the “Science and creativity in the classroom” competition in 2009 and the Irish Young Scientists and Technology Exhibition).
While students get to experience “real” science, scientists get feedback on their activities from a vast audience outside the laboratory, listen to fresh and innovative ideas, and set up a network for the scientists of the future.
Just over 10 year ago, US Vice President Al Gore put forward a vision of Digital Earth as a multi-resolution, 3-dimensional representation of the planet that would make it possible to find, visualize, and make sense of vast amounts of geo-referenced information on the physical and social environment. Such a system would allow users to navigate through space and time, access historical data as well as future predictions based e.g., on environmental models, and support access and use by anybody, from scientists to children.
At the time, this vision seemed almost impossible to achieve given the requirements it implied about access to computer processing cycles, broadband internet, interoperability of systems, and above all data organization, storage, and retrieval.
Ten years later, many elements of Digital Earth are not only available but also used daily by hundreds of millions of people worldwide thanks to innovative ways to organize and present the data and rapid technological advancements. Moreover, individuals have now become empowered to produce vast quantities of geo-referenced information which is becoming increasingly relevant to help us monitor and understand the environment we live in.
This session, with keynote speakers form the European Environment Agency, the European Commission, and Google, will explore these recent developments and show how close we have now arrived, achieving the vision of Digital Earth, particularly in relation to environmental information.
Africa’s forests and biodiversity have high social and economic value; but they are often over-exploited, with damaging consequences for ecosystem sustainability and local economies. All too often poverty, economic decline, environmental degradation, desertification, and unequal access to resources and land lead to conflict and to migration. Africa’s fast growing population and economic development put growing pressure on the environment to provide food, water and fibre, on the continent’s urban centres and transport networks, and on energy sources. Information on the location, condition and evolution of resources is an important step towards sustainability, but unfortunately such information is often difficult to get, especially in parts of Africa.
Earth observing satellite technology, combined with geographical information management, can help fill the gap and really make a difference, providing crucial information for decision-makers, both African and from the donor community, allowing reliable assessments of situations and trends. As a result, both the formulation of development policies and the design of cooperation projects and programs can be improved, and African ownership can be fostered. This session will illustrate the case of the Digital Observatory of Protected Areas (DOPA) and of the Observatory other Forests of Central Africa (OFAC), and it will show the role satellites can have to help decision-makers foster the Millennium Development Goals, for poverty alleviation and for improved environmental sustainability.
The current emergence of photovoltaics as a mainstream source of electric energy is seen as only the first step in a long term process of learning how best to exploit our most abundant source of renewable energy. This leads to the question: what will be the next paradigm shift in photovoltaic technology to help it fulfil its potential? In today's society reeling from energy crises and financial instability, there is a need to look beyond short-term solutions to examine how best to invest in a new generation of infrastructure and technologies, bearing in mind that these may have profound implications for our society and lifestyle. Indeed realising our ambitions for photovoltaics will require high levels of innovation at all stages of the cycle, from device conception and mass production to distribution and consumption. To examine these issues, the session brings together three short talks by leading experts from the areas of research, industry and European renewable energy policy, followed by an interactive discussion to critically assess the different perspectives and implications for our society.
The European Union’s objective of raising the share of Renewable Energy Sources in its final energy consumption to 20% in 2020 calls for a significant increase in RES deployment in the electricity sector. Several analyses consider that up to 35-40% of electricity demand shall be covered by RES in 2020 in order to fulfil the EU ambitions. The need to accommodate such large RES share has significant implications on how the electricity arteries crossing the European countries/continent – i.e. the transmission networks – and the electricity capillaries covering much shorter distances – i.e. the distribution grids – have to be operated, designed and developed.
Focus of this session is on key regulatory, technical and technological challenges linked with integrating the ongoing swift and the expected increasing penetration of RES in the transmission grid. We will stress in particular the aspects related to find sustainable pathways for scaling up renewable energy and promote viable solutions for super grids, considering also the potential political impact of changed energy structures. Additionally, the session offers an international perspective on the issues faced by the European system and makes use of an interdisciplinary approach, thanks to speakers displaying diversified political, regulatory, technical and scientific background.
Genetically modified crops are being developed and planted in more and more countries world-wide (125 million hectares and 25 countries in 2008). Yet, before a GMO can be marketed, it has to pass an approval process. The regulations and duration of the approval process for GMOs differ between countries, leading to a situation where GMOs are being marketed and traded with different regulatory approval status world-wide.
When implementing this specific GMO legislation, more and more countries around the world are becoming interested in reliable and comparable GMO testing. GMO testing is therefore becoming a topic of global relevance, raising various scientific challenges, from sampling to selection of detection methods and interpretation of results. The workshop will address some of these scientific challenges.
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