Brussels, 23 Mar 2004
At a conference entitled 'Life sciences in society today: modern biology and visions of humanity', Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin highlighted the need to promote scientific culture and public participation to achieve good scientific governance.
The conference, which took place on 22 and 23 March and was organised by the European Group on Life Sciences (EGLS), brought together scientists and representatives from the world of arts, humanities and politics to discuss the growing incidence of life sciences in European culture and society.
'This event is unique in that it is the first time the European Commission has organised a meeting between worlds that very seldom have the opportunity to meet,' said Mr Busquin in his opening speech. 'The aim is have a public debate on the role and the impact of life sciences and biotechnologies on society and culture in general.'
Thanks to molecular biology and contemporary physics, society now has a better understanding of the nature of life and of the cosmos, explained Mr Busquin. As a result, however, scientific knowledge has triggered many questions and fears, moral and social dilemmas. The consequences of certain breakthroughs, such as the mapping of the human genome for example, are considerable, and have given rise to a number of questions. The general public is sometimes worried that biological discoveries may be abused and wonders whether research should be subject to democratic control.
'Life sciences have upset the fields of knowledge and power,' said Mr Busquin. 'They have put in the hands of man, processes which borrow a surprising precision and a fearsome efficiency from nature. At the same time, the taming of the intimate mechanisms of life puts our principles and our values to the test.'
The public needs to be reassured and reminded of the considerable potential which these developments conceal in terms of scientific knowledge, medical progress, pharmaceutical projections advances and, also, economic growth, explained the Commissioner.
'This event will contribute, in its own way, to a general and necessary movement,' insisted Mr Busquin, 'which aims at reinstating sciences in culture, where it belongs'.
The exercise is not purely academic, the Commissioner went on to say. It is becoming obvious that in Europe, politicians are aware of the societal importance of research in all its forms, whether private, public or fundamental.
Mr Busquin highlighted, as an example, recent discussions on a new initiative for financing basic research at European level. Several Ministers insisted on the consideration of social and human sciences within the equation.
Mr Busquin ended his speech by insisting on the importance of scientific culture. 'And by scientific culture, I mean more than simple knowledge. I mean the debate, the interactions, the exchanges even the criticisms.' he said.
'Science has been the main spring of European development. It still is. It is also at the heart of European integration. To promote scientific culture means participating in the development of European citizenship. Promoting scientific culture is part of a good 'democratic hygiene'. It is indispensable to allowing the public to understand and direct progress. For these reasons, I hope that this type of initiative will take place also in other scientific and technical sectors experiencing rapid development - for example, nanotechnologies or information technologies.'
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