EU science chief: msg to academics and policymakers

CaSE  held its annual lecture last night with a most prominent speaker: the EU Chief Scientific Adviser to President J.M. Barroso. In addition to an invigorating talk about European scientific excellence and her role in promoting it, Prof Anne Glover had clear messages to the scientific and policymaking communities.

  • Science in part of our CULTURE.

As most of us practicing scientists know, science often calls for a wealth of creativity and imagination. Imagining things and links that are not there. Imagining results before you have them. And creativity in terms of figuring out how to navigate the path of the scientific method to arrive at trustworthy outcomes in new and innovative ways.

  • Public support for science is decreasing.

Based on a Eurobarometer survey from 2010 when asked to what level citizens agree with the following statement: “Science and technology makes our lives healthier, easier and more comfortable” The proportion that agree has decreased from 78% to 66% in five years. Also the number who actively disagree has risen considerably. Another striking finding in the same study was the idea that scientists are ‘dangerous’ because of the knowledge they acquire is equated with power (presumably used for the wrong causes). Sadly, this view is predominant (>50% agree) in nearly 60% of the 33 countries surveyed, and in 9 countries agreement is at 60% or more.

The full report is accessible here: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_340_en.pdf.

  • Speak up!

Communicate your science. If you don’t, it’s as good as non-existent. Making science just for yourself does little good.

  • Stand up!

Make yourself heard. Meet people. Introduce them to yourself and the work you do. Be proud of achievements. Modesty in moderation!

  • Gang up!

Consensus is important. Even if it exists at moderate levels, build on it. It makes the scientist’ voice stronger in the eyes of the outside community.

These were the Chief’s key messages to academics. For policymakers she had a couple as well. One was that transparency is key: there are other factors except for scientific evidence that play significant roles in policymaking. That’s OK as long as one admits to making decisions based on the other factors. Saying “we’ll wait for more evidence” is just an excuse for inaction. The second point relates to how much easier it is to be convincing with data that support you:

Science makes you look good!

It’s true.

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