Science and technology finds favour in candidate countries despite barriers, claims report

April 7, 2003

Brussels, 04 Apr 2003

Candidate countries remain optimistic about science, despite a lack of information and knowledge as well as poor career prospects for scientists, claims the candidate countries Eurobarometer on science and technology (S&T).

Presented in Brussels on 3 April, the report is the first of its kind, presenting an analysis of trends and perceptions in the13 candidate countries towards science and technology.

Over 12,000 citizens were asked to comment on a number of issues, including access to information and optimism towards S&T, the role of science, the scientific profession and the current vocational crisis.

The report reveals that some 56 per cent of candidate countries' nationals declare themselves uninterested in science and technology, and two thirds of those surveyed think that they are badly informed about what is going on in these fields.

'These findings are alarming, especially at a time when science and technology have such a direct and important impact on our society and lives,' said EU Commissioner for Research, Philippe Busquin, at the launch of the Eurobarometer.

However, despite such figures, 'people are more optimistic about science in the candidate countries than in current Member States. They are more confident in the capacity of science and technology to build a better future,' noted Mr Busquin.

Indeed, more than half of the participants in the study estimate that S&T can resolve all problems as opposed to only 15 per cent in Member States. Furthermore, eight in ten people are of the opinion that their lives are healthier, more comfortable and easier as a result of research. Most people also agree that scientific progress will eventually cure terminal illnesses such as cancer and AIDs.

However, while science finds favour in the candidate countries, not all respondents share the opinion that S&T is a panacea for all problems. For instance, the report shows that those surveyed tend not to agree that the increasing scarcity of natural resources will be resolved with the help of science.

With regards to issues such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), candidate countries and Member States are equally cautious. Some 80 per cent of respondents believe that more information and labelling on the packaging of GMO foodstuffs are needed.

In terms of the role of scientists in society, while the figures show an overwhelming esteem for scientists, 53 per cent of respondents believe that because of their knowledge, scientists have power that makes them dangerous.

However, despite this 'Dr. Frankenstein' perception, Mr Busquin noted that candidate countries are less reticent than Member States and are less likely to confuse the scientific invention with the application.

On the subject of scientific vocations, the eurobarometer attributes the declining interest in scientific studies and careers to the labour market in candidate countries, where low salaries in this field are commonplace. Agreeing with the report's findings, Mr Busquin said '[students are] abandoning research due to a lack of resources and career prospects in science [...]. We have to be aware of the risk of losing scientific expertise.'

'The time is ripe for greater investment in research in these countries as part of an enlarged EU. We must ensure that we invest now in our scientific legacy for future European generations,' he argued.

In terms of promoting and then harnessing scientific potential, some 68 per cent of those interviewed expect that their countries will benefit greatly from the enlargement process.

Mr Busquin welcomed the support of the candidate countries for the European Research Area (ERA). He concluded that the call for closer scientific cooperation in particular would help achieve Europe's objective of becoming the world's most competitive knowledge based society.

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CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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