Commission urges co-operation between scientists and journalists

July 12, 2002

Brussels, 11 July 2002

A meeting to 'bridge the gap' between scientists and media professionals took place on July 9, 2002. It was organised by the European Commission under the auspices of the European Group on Life Sciences (EGLS).

Participants from 13 different countries looked into ways to establish closer links between scientists and the media and identified more effective practices to improve media coverage of scientific progress in a clear and balanced manner.

They proposed, inter alia, to assess the feasibility of creating a EU-wide network of science communicators, and a programme of on-stage internships in order to encourage journalists to work in labs with appropriate tutoring.

The relationship between science and the media is not always easy. Scientists complain that the press oversimplifies complex issues and sometimes writes about scientific matters with distrust and fear. Journalists point out researchers' alleged lack of communication skills and will. The meeting was organised to address these issues in a practical way.

Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: "This is the first time we have brought journalists and scientists together at European level to discuss how we can all better communicate on science. This is a priority and a need in the knowledge-based society. European citizens need to be informed of scientific progress, particularly in the fast moving field of life sciences, to foster debate on the development of new products and technologies".

The European Group on the Life Sciences (EGLS) is a think tank of academic experts, appointed in 2000 by Philippe Busquin to advise on matters concerning life sciences and related policy matters, in particular those touching upon communication and awareness-raising. EGLS also addresses science coverage by the general media. Such coverage in the EU varies in quality and quantity. Perception of science by the public varies across EU countries, depending on different cultures.

The meeting underlined the constraints, needs, concerns, and the interests of the scientific journalists working in different European cultural contexts.

Scientists, who are becoming more aware of the need to inform the public, discussed their difficulties and outlined the lack of appropriate interlocutors. They mentioned the tendency for scientific developments to make the headlines only if associated either with a 'breakthrough' or with a controversy. Misunderstandings, suspicion and hostility surrounding innovative products based on recombinant DNA technology is one example affecting, for instance, GM foods and crops, although there are notable exceptions - as documented by the Eurobarometer surveys (1) - for the development of new medical drugs and treatments.

Some 40 journalists, communication experts and scientists, together with representatives of the Commission (including Commissioner Busquin), participated in the meeting and recommended:

  • launching detailed studies on science communication in Europe;

  • increasing awareness of respective needs and constraints through, for instance, training or temporary secondment of media representatives in labs and research centres;

  • engaging researchers to produce feature articles for the broader public;

  • networking and co-operation of press and information relays;

  • granting career awards and rewards to good communicators in life sciences;

  • sharing resources and experience amongst bio-science specialised media;

  • organising joint communication events on key life sciences issues across Europe.

  • fostering a more proactive role in the communication process by the research institutions which should also guarantee a proper scientific behaviour of their research staff with regard to communication.
These contributions will help the European Group on Life Sciences to better focus their specific advice to turn new biological knowledge into benefits for EU citizens. In particular, follow-up actions are envisaged in the context of the 6 th Framework Programme and via the Action Plans for "Life Sciences and Biotechnology" and for "Science and Society". Both stress the importance of a sound and transparent relationship between researchers, the media and the public. In this spirit, on 4 July, 2002, the Commission launched the Science Generation initiative (with a financial support of €1.44 million) to help inform EU citizens on life sciences and foster debate on bio-sciences, with the active participation of students, parents, teachers, researchers and journalists.

For further information please visit:

  • Communication on "Life sciences and biotechnology A Strategy for Europe":
http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/en/com/cnc/2002/com2002_00en01.pdf
  • Science & Society Action Plan:
http://www.cordis.lu/science-society
  • Eurobarometer 52.1/ The Europeans and Biotechnology:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/quality-of-life/eurobarometer.html
  • the European Group on Life Sciences
http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/life-sciences/egls/index_en.html
(1) Eurobarometer surveys focusing on biotechnology knowledge, attitudes have been carried out in 1991, 93, 96, 99 ; next is planned for later in 2002.

Stéphane Hogan, Press Officer, Information and Communication Unit, DG Research, European Commission
Tel.: +32.2.296.2965 - Fax: +32.2.295.8220 - E-mail: stephane.hogan@cec.eu.int

Alessio Vassarotti, Scientific Officer, Quality of Life Programme, DG Research, European Com-mission
Tel.: +32.2.295.83.09 - Fax: +32.2.299.18.60 - E-mail : alessio.vassarotti@cec.eu.int

DN: IP/02/1038 Date: 11/07/2002

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