Life sciences: the European Commission stimulates debate with the Science Generation project

The Science Generation project which European research commissioner Philippe Busquin is presenting in Brussels today aims to make decision-makers, politicians and scientists, as well as the general public, better informed on action to be taken at the interface between life sciences and society. This project, receiving €1.44 million in EU funding, seeks to set up networks of scientists, students and journalists, extending into the regions, with colloquia and public opinion surveys and debates online and in the field. The brainchild of the Aventis-Institut de France Foundation, the scheme is part of the Commission’s efforts to bring science and society together in the framework of the European Research Area. “We are not just saying that it is important to have a wide public debate on life sciences. We are giving it concrete support”, Commissioner Busquin said. “Science is moving very fast. It is giving many people hope, but many are afraid of it too. This is a situation which involves the responsibility of both scientists and public bodies. The purpose of Science Generation is to give the public a say in the development of life sciences so they can freely express their expectations and concerns. Now more than ever this dialogue has to take place at the European level as well, benefiting from cultural diversity and intercultural exchange”, Mr Busquin concluded.

The principle of public debate on life sciences is at the heart of several Commission objectives: the creation of a European Research Area (ERA) going hand in hand with a European shared values area; the responsible development of life sciences, for which the Commission presented a strategic action plan in January 2002 ; and bringing researchers together with economic, social and political decision makers, the object of another action plan launched by the Commission in December 2001 .

Science Generation has been a remarkable success in France. Launched there as a pilot project two years ago, with European Commission support through its Fifth Research Framework Programme, it is going to be extended to other EU Member States, in particular Italy and Sweden, in a partnership with the Euro-CASE (European Council of Applied Sciences and Engineering) network comprising 18 applied sciences and technology academies.

In Italy, FAST (the Italian Federation of Scientific and Technological Associations) will be coordinating the introduction of Science Generation in three regions, each chosen for its specific characteristics: Lombardy for its economic and industrial importance and the three biotechnology centres it hosts, Lazio for its many pharmaceutical companies and Sicily as a developing area.

In Sweden, the Royal Swedish Science and Technology Academy (IVA) will be organising debates with young people, parents and teachers on biotechnology-related subjects in three regions – Stockholm, Gothenburg and Skåne. The IVA also intends to conduct opinion surveys on biotechnology and organise an international symposium on “Biosciences and Citizens: Ethics, Law and Society” in Brussels in 2004.

Science Generation: let the people speak

Innovative and creative centres with a link to society and dealing with matters of common concern, the Foundations can play an important part in bringing together the various players. Launched by the Aventis-Institut de France Foundation initially for a three-year period, the Science Generation project began in 2001 with an opinion survey.

The new phase of the Science Generation project is going to include surveys, opinion barometers and colloquia with scientists, philosophers, historians, legal experts, politicians, economists, sociologists, media representatives, young people, parents and teachers. Science Generation will also benefit from the multiplier effect of mobilisation networks in the regions and support groups seeking ways of bringing science closer to the citizen.

Five inter-regional working groups will be starting up in September 2002:

  • bringing science closer to daily life,
  • making schools more open to science,
  • making scientific information more accessible,
  • science without frontiers: more solidarity between richer and poorer countries,
  • science for the citizen.

Netties speak their mind, experts respond

This regional mobilisation is also reflected on the Science Generation website, www.science-generation.com. The site offers online debates on matters of public concern. Forthcoming issues will be “access to healthcare in southern hemisphere countries” and “therapeutic versus reproductive cloning”.

For more information on:
– the Commission’s communication “Life sciences and biotechnology: a Strategy for Europe”: http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/en/com/cnc/2002/com2002_0027en01.pdf
– the Science and Society action plan “Structuring the European Research Area”: http://www.cordis.lu/rtd2002/science-society/home.html
– the Eurobarometer study of Europeans’ views on science and technology: http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/rtdinfo/fr/special-eurobarometre/index.html
– Biosociety, the Internet site which brings out the socio-economic and ethical implications of life sciences research: http://biosociety.cordis.lu/
– the Science Generation project: www.science-generation.com
Fabio FABBI: 02 2964174 – Lone MIKKELSEN : 02 2960567

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Fabio Fabbi Europäische Kommission

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