Brussels, 10 Jul 2003
For too long, EU research and policy has ignored the societal implications of new knowledge, assuming it is converted magically into useful applications. Not any more.
As a concept 'science and society' could arguably cover the entire gambit of scientific endeavours aimed at improving humankind. Perhaps it is for this reason that the European Commission's Science and Society helpdesk has been inundated with queries from all over the world since the introduction of this specific domain in the Union's Sixth Framework Programme for research (FP6).
Although new in name, initiatives and projects – now broadly falling under the 'science and society' umbrella – have in fact been going on for many years in previous European research programmes. Several Science and Society issues, such as the 'improving human potential' initiative, gender issues and raising public awareness, were covered in the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5).
Moreover, some 100 projects funded in FP5 included ethical reviews, which has become an important part of Science and Society's remit under FP6. Thus, research in this domain blends several elements from the past while introducing new areas and priorities for Science and Society in FP6.
Science for society, too
The Science and Society action draws its inspiration from a number of worrying trends in European society: people feel under-informed about science and research, youngsters are turning away from scientific studies and careers, and people increasingly misunderstand – and sometimes mistrust – scientists and their activities, according to Eurobarometer studies in the EU Member States and candidate countries.
So, how can society keep pace with rapid scientific, technological and economic developments without losing sight of its core values? What are the consequences for democracy, governance and public co-determination? What can Europe do to promote scientific careers and stimulate young people's interest in science? The Science and Society domain in FP6 is looking into how to answer these questions and more.
One of the aims of this initiative is to redress the division in society between those with access to, and understanding of, scientific knowledge, and those without. In principle, this complements certain goals set out for the European Research Area (ERA), while doing everything to safeguard not just science 'and' society, but science 'for' society as well.
Science and Society's vision is to help create an environment where the public at large are more aware, informed and excited about science, and where scientific effort addresses public concerns and aspirations, with both policy-makers and citizens making informed choices from the range of options presented by technological progress.
In order to better structure the ERA, the Science and Society action has been grouped into the following priorities: governance, scientific advice, ethics, science and technological awareness, young people and science, and women and science.