terça-feira, abril 05, 2005

Para que é que serve a ciência?

Science and technology have been among the most important factors changing society. Most developments have taken place with little political discussion. The Lisbon Strategy states that, in the 'knowledge economy' research and scientific innovation will be the driving force behind 'wealth creation'. The Strategy intends that Europe in 2010 will be "the globally most competitive knowledge-based economy". Such an approach supports and judges research and innovation only in its ability to deliver moneymaking ventures, not whether it can make society a more sustainable and healthy place to live. The two are not mutually exclusive; but the question "what is science for?" arises when it is uncritically a profit-driven exercise.

As the major R&D investment by the EU, we can contrast the expected approach of Framework Programme 7 (FP7) with a different research agenda with different priorities, which explicitly aims for a creative, co-operative, healthy, environmentally-sustainable and peaceful society. This briefing outlines such an approach. Questioning the existing structures and priorities becomes more important with the expected doubling of EU research spending from FP6 (€17.5 billions) to nearly €40 billion over 5 years.

There is nothing in "science" that dictates thematic programmes or the priorities of research funders. Science can be steered in various ways to fulfil different functions: broadening our understanding of our world; or providing experts and data for public policy making independent from business / industry lobbies; or commodifying nature and knowledge etc. Those who refuse a proper debate on the goals and conditions of research are, in the current context, allowing the co-option of the research agenda by short-term economic interests. Opening a societal debate, far from restricting the freedom of scientific endeavours, will open new possibilities and options that are not restricted to the immediate search for profit.

We believe that the current proposals for developing FP7 place too much power in the hands of the industry lobby and not enough influence from the wider European public in whose name this money is being spent. Market forces are blind - society needs to define its own priorities and there is no other place to do it other than political institutions: participative, inclusive, deliberative democratic processes for research priority-setting are essential. We believe that a different research agenda is possible - one that has a different vision for society's future.

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