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Checkbiotech: EU citizens' perceptions of science and technology
Posted by: DR. RAUPP ; madora (IP Logged)
Date: July 21, 2005 08:28AM ; ;

The European Commission and other stakeholders have been digesting the
findings of the latest Eurobarometer ? the EU?s public opinion gauge ?
surveys on public perception of science and technology. Scientists and
policy-makers are taking heart from science?s positive image and citizens?
support for increased R&D funding, July 2005.

Last week witnessed the European Commission?s official presentation of the
latest Eurobarometer surveys on public perceptions of science and
technology. The first, Europeans, science and technology, measures general
attitudes, while Values, science and technology explores public perceptions
of the role of social values and ethics in science.

The two surveys interviewed 32 000 people in the 25 EU Member States, four
candidate countries, as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland (an area
representing 570 million people). Since the release of the report last
month, scientists, policy-makers, researchers and other stakeholders have
been chewing over the results and their significance.

The European Commission concluded that the surveys revealed a ?very positive
and optimistic perception of what science and technology can actually do for
humanity?. Europeans have a great respect for scientists, the surveys show,
but they feel scientists fail to communicate effectively. Although they
support scientific freedom to follow lines of research objectively, they
also believe that these efforts should be governed by a strict ethical

On the downside, three-fifths believe that science is changing life too fast
and that technological progress ? particularly in computing ? would shed
more jobs than it created. The two reports also highlight public awareness
of the negative impact of science on the environment. In addition, they also
show that more than half of Europeans consider food made from genetically
modified organisms to be dangerous. Nevertheless, this is lower than the
figure in the 2002 surveys.

The studies also indicate that the majority of citizens think that
biotechnology, genetic engineering and high-tech agriculture will have a
positive effect on our way of life. However, views are subtle and complex,
with wide national variations.

Cashing in on public support

One key finding which should encourage S&T policy-makers at the national and
European level is that nearly three-quarters of Europeans believe that
governments should boost their research spending, and about half think that
basic research is essential. Given recent signs of growing euroscepticism,
some may find it surprising that a majority of European citizens thought
that research at the EU level was effective and more of it needed to be

?There seems to be more support for science among the public than there is
at the political level,? observed John Marks, director of science and
strategy at the European Science Foundation. ?Not only is it a good
investment to spend money on research?but, in addition, spending it at an EU
level is cost-effective because a lot of what is happening works to reduce
fragmentation,? he told The Scientist.

This overwhelming public support should give more momentum to Europe?s
efforts to close the R&D investment gap with its major competitors and turn
the Union into the world?s most competitive knowledge-based economy.

The Commission?s proposal for the forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme
(FP7) seeks to double annual research spending at EU level. Meanwhile,
Member States are working hard to reach the target of investing 3% of their
gross domestic product in R&D.

However, a budget compromise floated in June by the previous Luxembourg
Presidency in a bid to reconcile the contrasting views of various Member
States would see 40% shaved off the Commission?s proposal. An on-line
petition calling on the EU to ensure ?a very significant increase? in EU
funding in line with the Commission?s proposal was launched soon after. So
far, more than 15 000 scientists from across Europe, as well as the
Americas, Africa and Asia have signed it.


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