Stimulating Communication between Scientists and the General Public in Austria
The Austrian Council for Research and Technology advised the government to assign further funds for projects to enhance public understanding of science and technology in Austria. This resulted in two major activities under the wider framework "Public Awareness of Science and Technology":
"Citizens' Conferences" to discuss controversial social and ethical implications of research relevant to the society were introduced in 2002. Here, non-experts are offered the possibility to discuss issues related to science and ethics with researchers and representatives of public institutions. The objective of this initiative is to foster communication between scientists and the general public. In spring 2003, for example, a citizens' conference on the topic "Gene-diagnostics" will be held where layman and experts have the opportunity to discuss an ethical framework for the diagnoses of diseases linked to genes.
Consisting of scientists of various university institutes, the publicly funded communication platform "Gentechnik und Wir" ("Genetics and We") aims at informing the Austrian population about topics related to genetics in an understandable and technically correct way. It also aims at creating communication networks and raising the ability of the general public to discuss questions with a scientific component. Based on the belief that only well-informed people are in a position to contribute to a fruitful discussion of topics such as genetics, the platform organises public discussions and expositions and offers opportunities for a dialogue between scientists from various universities and the general public.
The association maintains a co-ordination office, which offers access to scientific information for the public, answers questions related to scientific topics and maintains contact with scientists and researchers. A substantial part of the information is made available via the Internet. The joint funding of the platform by the Ministry for Economy and Work, the Ministry for Education, Science and Culture and the Ministry for Social Security and Generations allows for the coverage of topics independent from the industry. Further information on this topic is available at http://www.gentech.at or http://www.innovatives-oesterreich.at.
University meets Public in Austria
For the 7th time in 2002, the public in Vienna is offered the possibility to participate in an annual "University meets Public" program. This program was initiated by the Vienna University in co-operation with various adult education centres and is fully supported by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Experts in science and humanities working at the Vienna University give lectures on issues of social and ethical relevance. This year special focus is given to the topic "Medicine and Health". All of the lectures are open to the public for free and take place at the adult education centres ("Volkshochschulen") in Vienna. An overview over the various activities (in German) can be found at http://www.ump.at.
Finnish Scientists reaching out to the Public
Besides funding research, a major objective of the Academy of Finland is to raise awareness about science and to increase the esteem of scientific research among the public. The Academy issues wide science reviews every two to three years mainly aimed at the general public, i.e. non-professionals vis-à-vis scientific research. These reviews cover a wide range of fields. The review of autumn 1999, for exmple, was dedicated to the bio- sciences. A second one, "Culture 2001- Finland in a multicultural world" covered different aspects of research on culture.
To round up the reviews, broad-based general events, e.g. visits to research institutes, for specific target groups such as small children and students have been arranged. There is also the possibility to become a member of the network and to receive regular e-mails on ongoing events. For more details on the science reviews, please contact the Director of Communications Jorma Laakkonen at firstname.lastname@example.org or consult the Academy website at http://www.aka.fi/kulttuuri2001.
Norwegian public gets involved in Decision-making regarding Stem Cell Research and Cloning
The Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board, an independent body consisting of members appointed by the Norwegian government as well as members of public organisations has arranged several consensus conferences on topics at the intersection of science and ethics. Held two to three times a year, these conferences aim at stimulating public debate and the participation of the general public in the decision-making processes on science-related topics.
Special emphasis is being put on lay people's assessment of topics such as genetically modified food, stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. The discussions involve a panel of laymen representing a wide age range, different political and religious convictions and diverse professional experience and a panel of experts ranging from medical researchers, geneticists or ethicists to theologians and patients.
The events are covered extensively by the media, and results of the discussions are also presented to the media, further attracting the attention of the general public. For additional information, please contact the secretariat of the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory board by email at email@example.com.
Dutch Rathenau Institute Fosters Public Debate on Scientific Topics
The Rathenau Institute contributes to societal debate and political opinion on issues related to science and technology by organising public conferences on such issues as reproductive healthcare, cloning, digital identification or food chains. A large-scale national debate on "Food and Genes", for instance, was organised in 2001. Various types of workshops, symposia, video clips, discussions and scenario studies, are carried out in co-operation with university researchers, representatives of various interest groups and scientific journalists. Based on the public debates, the Rathenau Institute publishes reports on the findings and makes recommendations to the government. Additional information on the institute's activities is available at http://www.rathenau.nl/uk/default.asp.
"Science in Dialogue" in Germany focuses on geo-sciences in 2002 and on Chemistry next year.
Upon the initiative of the "Donors association for the promotion of sciences and humanity in Germany", the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research launched the nation-wide initiative "Science in Dialogue", aimed at improving the dialogue between scientists and the general public. Started in 1999 under the patronage of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, the initiative focuses on a different area each year. This year the focus was on geo-sciences and next will be the "Year of Chemistry".
In co-operation with all relevant organisations in the private and public sector, the 2002 "Year of geo-sciences" started with a "Science Summer Week" in Bremen, featuring an multimedia open air show about the topic "Earth, Fire, Water and Air", which attracted more than 3000 visitors. An additional highlight was the "Night of Sciences" where scientific institutions and museums stayed open all-night for the general public. Due to the flooding of parts of Eastern Germany, a special forum on floods was organised, informing people on the causes for and the potential prevention of such forces of nature. "Climate change" was the theme for different working groups of approximately 100 students who elaborated thesis papers on the subject.
The upcoming "Year of Chemistry" will also feature open days, science weeks and an expert summit focussing on the education of students in the area of chemistry. Further information on the initiative "Science in Dialogue" is available at http://www.wissenschaft-im-dialog.de/wasistwid/engl/whatis.htm. Additional information on the upcoming "Year of Chemistry" can be found, in German only, at http://www.jahr-der-chemie.de/.
Within the framework of the "Science in Dialogue" initiative, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the "Stifterverband", an association of various German science organisations, launched the project PUSH (Public Understanding of Sciences and Humanities). The project invites scientists and scientific institutions to apply for funding projects aimed at facilitating the understanding of scientific research for the general public with a special focus on students. The funding of the German "Stiferverband" may amount to 10000 euros per project, in special cases up to 25000 euros. In 2002, for example, a TV series for kids on the exploration of corral reefs, and "Luftikus", a puppet theatre on scientific topics aimed at children in nursery school, were funded.
To get funding, the projects need to focus on a scientific area, e.g. molecular biology, biochemistry or nano-technology. Projects involving new media and interactive modules such as workshops or discussion forums are regarded as especially eligible for funding. With regard to the upcoming "Year of Chemistry" in 2003, special attention is given to projects in the area of chemistry. Scientists have the possibility to present their projects at the annual Science Weeks organised nation-wide or at special events organised by the "Stifterverband". For more information, please contact Mrs. Sandra Rohmann from the "Stifterverband" at Sandra.Rohmann@stifterverband.de or consult the web site at http://www.stifterverband.org/push_aktionsprogramm.html.