Brussels, 4 July 2002
To provide deciders, politicians and scientists and public opinion with greater perspective in their search for answers to questions at the interface between bioscience and society: this is the objective of the "Science Generation" project presented today in Brussels by European Commissioner for Research Philippe Busquin.
The project, which will receive EU funding for a total of €1.44 million, foresees the creation of a network of scientists, students, journalists, and information relays at regional level, meetings and opinion polls, in addition to on-line and locally-organized debates. The project, initiated by the Aventis - Institut de France Foundation, is in line with efforts to bridge the gap between science and society advocated by the Commission with a view to creating the European Research Area.
"At the Commission, we are not only saying that a wide-ranging dialogue on the life sciences is necessary, we are also supporting concrete action", stated Commissioner Busquin. "Science is advancing at such a rapid pace; it brings new hope to many people, but also raises fears. This situation means that the scientific community and public authorities have to assume their responsibilities.
The key objective of Science Generation is to allow our fellow citizens to share in recent developments in the life sciences so that they may freely express their expectations and their concerns regarding some of the options offered by these new disciplines. More than ever it is necessary for this dialogue to take place on a European scale to benefit from the diversity and exchange of cultures.
The principle of public debate on the life sciences is at the core of several objectives pursued by the European Commission: the creation of a European Research Area (ERA) which also requires a set of shared European values; the development of the life sciences in Europe in a responsible manner, for which the European Commission presented a strategy in January 2002; and efforts to bring together the various players from the research, economic, social and political worlds, the objective of another action plan devoted to Science and Society put forward by the Commission in December 2001
Science Generation has had a very successful start in France where it was launched two years ago. It will now spread, thanks to European Commission support through the Fifth Framework programme for Research, to other EU countries, namely Italy and Sweden, in partnership with Euro-Case (European Council of Applied Sciences and Engineering), an umbrella organisation of 18 academies of applied science and technology.
Thus, the Italian Federation of Scientific and Technological Associations (FAST) will take charge of co-ordinating the introduction of Science Generation in three Italian regions, each chosen for its specific characteristics: Lombardy, for the importance of its economy and the presence of three biotech centres; Lazio, for the large number of pharmaceutical companies based on its territory; and Sicily, owing to its status as an emerging region.
At the same time, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) plans to hold discussion sessions in Stockholm, Göteborg and Skåne, and to conduct "opinion barometer" surveys to find out more about the public view of biotechnology. Interviews will primarily target young people, parents and teachers. An international symposium on the theme "Biosciences and Citizens: Ethics, Law and Society" will be held in Brussels in 2004.
Both FAST and IVA will also use the Science Generation web site as a forum for discussions and the exchange of experience.
Science Generation: giving the floor to ordinary citizens
Because they act as focal points for innovation and the creation of social ties, targeted at issues of a general interest, Foundations can play an active role in bringing together a range of different individuals and entities. Launched by the Aventis-Institut de France Foundation for an initial 3-year period, the Science Generation initiative started its operations in France with an opinion poll carried out in 2001. One thousand young people, parents, and teachers were asked about science, their hopes and fears, their expectations related to information, and how they would like to play a more active role in the debates inspired by these issues.
The results of this opinion poll formed the basis of the deliberations of a symposium organised at the Institut de France in Paris, attended by 70 experts - scientists, philosophers, historians, lawyers, representatives from the world of politics, economics, civil society and the media - who came to give their opinions about the current status of bioscience, its applications and possible impact on society as a whole. At the end of this symposium, more than 800 young people, parents and teachers - all volunteers constituting the veritable kingpin of the operation - organised meetings in the 22 French regions to imagine a kind of science closer to their preoccupations.
Mobilisation channels: a source of proposals and concrete action
In the space of 6 months, 198 meetings co-ordinated by some sixty journalists enabled each mobilisation channel comprised of "young people," "parents," and "teachers" to put forward proposals that were discussed during the General Assembly organised in March 2002. Five hundred young people, parents, and teachers meeting in the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, voted for the action initiatives to be pursued as a matter of priority for the subsequent stages in the Science Generation project by deciding to set up 5 inter-regional working groups due to start work in September 2002:
Science closer to everyday life,
Schools more open to science,
Scientific information more accessible to all,
Science without frontiers, for greater solidarity between rich and poor nations,
Science more accessible to the ordinary citizen.
Visitors to the website give their opinion; the experts offer their answers
This mobilisation, originating in the French regions, is also given a wider resonance through the Science Generation website. This site provides access to online debates devoted to questions of concern to the general public. In May, Professor Alain Pompidou, an honorary member of the European Parliament and a member of the French Economic and Social Committee, answered questions put by visitors to the website about the creation of a European research community. On July 15, Didier Sicard, Chairman of the National Ethical Committee in France, François Gros, Honorary Permanent Secretary of the French Académie des Sciences, and Daniel Boy, Director of Research at the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, will comment on the results of the survey devoted to bioethics. The two future themes, chosen by the visitors to the website, will focus on the "availability of heath care in countries in the southern hemisphere" and "stem cells and cloning".
Public debate in the European Research Area
The principle of public debate is fundamental to the strategy proposed by the Commission for the creation of a European Research Area (ERA), designed to foster a coherent and stimulating environment for research in Europe. It is to establish a model of governance in research that the Commission has undertaken to take a series of concerted actions in the immediate future in association with the EU Member States and the economic agents in Europe.
Action plans and political commitment
These actions lie at the point of convergence between two major opportunities for economic growth in Europe: the advent of biotechnology and the assimilation of new knowledge by society in general. A strategy and an action plan have been proposed for Europe in the area of the life sciences and biotechnology, a set of disciplines representing one of the strongest and most promising currents in the knowledge-based economy while simultaneously raising major issues of a political and social nature. This action plan contains a series of 28 concrete measures, a great many of which involve forging contacts with society at large as a basis for responsible action. More generally, the Science and Society Action Plan aims to foster closer and more harmonious relationships between the different members of the research community, representatives of the economic and social worlds, and political authorities.
European Commission, DG Research
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