ESF's 1st Science Policy Conference ponders questions on era, global research area

November 29, 2007

Never mind the politics of a superstate, just consider the scientific challenge that faces Europe. Should researchers co-operate or compete" Should there be a master plan, prepared by the ministers, funding agencies and chiefs of European science, or should Europe's commissioners encourage imagination and invention at the laboratory bench" Should Europe's science managers favour basic or blue skies research, or worry about backing science that will make money" Should research chiefs try to pick winners, or should they give chance and natural curiosity free rein and a generous helping hand and see what surprises emerge"

How, in the face of many differing national bureaucracies, research traditions and peer review practices, should they build a new kind of community of knowledge and discovery" How should they encourage partnerships that make the best of the intellectual firepower of researchers in 27 member countries and with partnerships in 17 non-European countries including the US, India, China, Brazil, Korea, Japan and even New Zealand" Or, to put it another way, is the European Research Area just a first step towards a global research area: in acronym terms a move from ERA to GLOREA"

The European Science Foundation (ESF) opened its first ever science policy conference in Strasbourg on November 28 and wrestled with questions that, for the moment, could only be answered with other questions. Should researchers be directed to tackle the obvious problems that face society - the menace of climate change, for instance, or the problem of maintaining health in an increasingly elderly populace" Or should researchers be encouraged to explore possibilities that no one had ever imagined"

"More importantly, more difficult, how do you apply science to the possibilities that might be there but you don't really know about," said Ian Halliday, President of the ESF, and a theoretical particle physicist. "My favourite example is the Americans, taking to, and grabbing, everybody's technology to make the Internet work. Think of the impact on society. That wasn't a solution to societal need. That was: there's something interesting over here that's more than just mature science. How do we make it work, how do we turn it into something."

Take the problem of what used to be considered healthy competition, but in a close-knit Europe looks increasingly like duplication of effort, or fragmentation of research funds. "What do I mean by duplication" I mean the worry in the UK or Sweden or wherever that you are funding something that is really identical to something funded in Italy or whatever. Again let me use my background. The UK had the best dark matter experiment in Europe. So did France and so did Italy. Those cannot all be true. There is real suspicion that the money could have been spent better. And that is repeated many times across Europe. So how do we get that kind of visibility and transparency""

Dark matter makes up more than 20 per cent of the universe. All the stars and all the galaxies account for only about 4 per cent of creation. More than 70 per cent of the mass of the universe is concealed in a phenomenon sometimes called dark energy, or quintessence, or antigravity: a force so mysterious that no physicist has any confidence that it will ever be understood. Most of the galaxies, however, are embedded in an invisible but massive substance known as dark matter, and most researchers believe that, sooner or later, they will begin to identify it. Professor Halliday's point is not that any one experiment is more likely to succeed; it is that to make the best of its intellectual effort, a European research council should have been able to consider all three projects, and endorse one of them. The challenge was to get the most money to the best scientists to produce the fastest and most effective research. "I suspect much talent in Europe does not have that kind of funding," he said.

Colin Blakemore, an Oxford neuroscientist and until October head of the UK's medical research council, had a different set of questions about the new shape of scientific research in Europe. "One shouldn't lose sight of the broader goal: that integration and co-operation are not ends in themselves. They are mean to the greater benefit of science. Or are they always" Is it absolutely essential that to be successful in science Europe must have enforced trans-national co-operation" It is worth reflecting on that," he said.

Sometimes, that question was simply answered. Some scientific ventures - the huge atom-smashing collider at CERN in Geneva, for example, the human genome project and the European bioinformatics institute - were simply too big and too costly for any single university or country to attempt. There were clinical trials that worked best as transnational co-operations, and vaccine partnerships that demanded international effort. Space programmes and fusion research were also obvious examples of successful and necessary co-operations.

"The examples are there but notice that in each case one can trace the need for co-operation to a scientific objective and goal rather than enforced co-operation for its own sake," Prof Blakemore said. "We have to be very cautious, in recognising that the driver for co-operation is not co-operation itself, but it is the goal of supporting science better where co-operation is essential."
-end-
Notes to editors

The two-day Science Policy conference (28-29 November, 2007) Is ERA a first step to GLOREA (Global Research Area)", provides an occasion for policy makers to interact with the science community, the industry and charities from Asia and North America to discuss topics that are concerning the ERA such as Research Infrastructure, Peer Review: Benchmarking, Strategic Foresight, Young researchers development, Collaborative Research ...etc.

For more information please visit http://www.esf.org/activities/science-policy/corporate-science-policy-initiatives/esf-science-policy-conference-assembly-2007.html

TO download photos from the conference http://www.esf.org/media-centre/photogallery/esf-science-policy-conference.html

European Science Foundation

Related Dark Matter Articles from Brightsurf:

Dark matter from the depths of the universe
Cataclysmic astrophysical events such as black hole mergers could release energy in unexpected forms.

Seeing dark matter in a new light
A small team of astronomers have found a new way to 'see' the elusive dark matter haloes that surround galaxies, with a new technique 10 times more precise than the previous-best method.

Holding up a mirror to a dark matter discrepancy
The universe's funhouse mirrors are revealing a difference between how dark matter behaves in theory and how it appears to act in reality.

Zooming in on dark matter
Cosmologists have zoomed in on the smallest clumps of dark matter in a virtual universe - which could help us to find the real thing in space.

Looking for dark matter with the universe's coldest material
A study in PRL reports on how researchers at ICFO have built a spinor BEC comagnetometer, an instrument for studying the axion, a hypothetical particle that may explain the mystery of dark matter.

Looking for dark matter
Dark matter is thought to exist as 'clumps' of tiny particles that pass through the earth, temporarily perturbing some fundamental constants.

New technique looks for dark matter traces in dark places
A new study by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, UC Berkeley, and the University of Michigan -- published today in the journal Science - concludes that a possible dark matter-related explanation for a mysterious light signature in space is largely ruled out.

Researchers look for dark matter close to home
Eighty-five percent of the universe is composed of dark matter, but we don't know what, exactly, it is.

Galaxy formation simulated without dark matter
For the first time, researchers from the universities of Bonn and Strasbourg have simulated the formation of galaxies in a universe without dark matter.

Taking the temperature of dark matter
Warm, cold, just right? Physicists at UC Davis are using gravitational lensing to take the temperature of dark matter, the mysterious substance that makes up about a quarter of our universe.

Read More: Dark Matter News and Dark Matter Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.