Leader: European science fair is welcome innovation

February 7, 2003

The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is the world's glossiest showcase for science and innovation. It is therefore little wonder that European scientists and the European Commission want something similar. Such a meeting would have a lot of superb science to show off.

But the idea also demonstrates the weakness of European institutions. Only the UK, whose British Association for the Advancement of Science gave the world the idea and the name, has a conference remotely comparable in status to the AAAS. The AAAS and the BA have always been careful of their independence of governments. Now the Euroscience group behind the European conference idea wants to build enthusiasm from the ground up.

But the group is small and there is a danger that Euroscience will need the sponsorship of big institutions too much for the event to look like a spontaneous gathering of working scientists. Despite this, Euroscience deserves support if it can show that European science is about discoveries and inventions, not just committees and organisations, and that the public and the scientists are gaining from the collaboration that the European Union is building. Paradoxically, these are just the reasons why the commission will take the event over if it can.

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