New models for science needed, concludes World Science Forum

November 17, 2005

Brussels, 16 Nov 2005

The second World Science Forum (WSF) closed on 12 November in Budapest, Hungary, with general agreement on the need for a platform for dialogue on research, bringing together scientists, opinion leaders and decision makers.

Prominent academics, politicians and members of the international scientific community were present at the forum, including Nobel Laureate Torsten Wiesel and EU Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potocnik.

In all, 500 participants from 80 countries gathered to discuss the role of ethics and responsibility in science. There was unanimity on the need to put science in context by considering its ethical aspects, and the importance of educating future generations was another point of accord. Other ethical issues highlighted by the WSF included the widening gap between rich or emerging countries building knowledge based societies and the rest of the world and the ethical dilemmas of biotechnology or the dangers of human genetic research.

The following conclusions and recommendations emerged from the event:

- due to the complexity of science today, the relationship between academia, government, the business sector and other actors in society needs to be recast. This process in turn demands new models for science funding, education and communication;

- to fully benefit from the opportunities of capacity building, experiences and good practices should be exchanged and shared worldwide;

- it is essential to foster mutual understanding to bridge the cultural gap between science and business, with particular attention paid to interconnectedness, interdependence, ethics and human values;

- the rapidly widening gap of capacity, scientific knowledge and achievements in science and technology among different countries and regions should be eliminated by strengthening South-South and South-North cooperation;

- intrinsic ecological values need to be recognised, including the greater community of life with which we share the planet, and the need to maintain the evolutionary potential of life itself;

- it is never too early to interest children in science - and once enthused, they will become a new generation with a crucially improved understanding of science.

In his speech to the World Science Forum, Mr Potocnik underlined the key values that anchor science in European societies: truth, progress and responsibility, expressing the full support of the European Commission to initiatives promoting interaction between science and society. The Commissioner pointed to the validation of scientific knowledge outside laboratory conditions as the critical stage where questions from lay people and other disciplines come into play, and thus a central element for governance of the European knowledge-based society.

'As we speak, we are learning to live in a collective environment where science has to be fully accepted and firmly established at the heart of public deliberations. Let's apply to policy-making the mix of enthusiasm and scepticism that makes scientific research so powerful and we Europeans so proud of our scientific legacy,' he concluded.

Meanwhile, Professor Wiesel focused on means of collaboration between scientists and policy makers. He outlined some recent failures of science communication towards the governments and the public, namely genetically modified plants and food products, the stem cell debate and the battle against AIDS, arguing that in most of these cases, insufficient public understanding of the possible advantages and risks of new achievements led to inappropriate public policy.

According to the Nobel laureate, implementing large-scale science-based measures - on the governmental side -, and improving the quality and conditions of science education and the unity of the scientific community - on the scientist's side - are the best means of dealing with deep social problems, including the threat of biological warfare and the protection of human rights.

In his closing address, the Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány highlighted that while humanity has created international institutions to address global commercial and financial issues, it has failed to establish effective supranational organisations to solve the problems that threaten our way of life, such as global warming. 'Science needs to answer what we human beings are, how people with different religious, cultural and ethnic background could cooperate with each other', he concluded. 'Science should not exist for itself only, it needs to help to preserve traditional values and to contribute to learn and realise new values of our constantly changing world.'

Further information http://www.sciforum.hu/

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001
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