My capsules of the PAC: About the scientific enlightened despotism

18.12. 2016

Tomás García Azcárate

Last October, I had the opportunity to attend the meeting of Union of European Academies for Sciences applied to Agriculture, Food and Nature (UEAA). The second day was entirely devoted to a seminar on “Science and Agriculture, historical evolution and prospects”. Among other things, Paul Brassley, from the University of Exeter, addressed the issue of the impact of agricultural research, from an historical point of view. The discussions and presentations are available on the website, http://www.ueaa.info.
One of the issues addressed in his submission has been that scientists speak mainly to scientists in a language which is fully understandable only by scientists. For example, it was mentioned that peer review, for the funding of research projects or for publishing in prestigious journals, has obviously benefits but it hardens “pot in their own sauce” of the scientific community.
“Knowledge” and scientific excellence are the basis on which to build the moral authority of the scientific community. In the discussion, the issue of the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was raised. It is for me one of the clearest examples of the dramatic divorce between the vast majority of the scientific community and European society, a perfect example of the scientific enlightened despotism and its failure.
Many of my scientists colleagues and friends were convinced that, by the front or the back door, GMOs would enter into our lives and food and that the ‘fortress’ (conservative and reactionary) Europe will fall sooner or later given to the feet of the goddess science. Time has shown that nothing is less clear.
Citizens, consumers should not, cannot be ignored, called “ignorants manipulated by senseless lobbyists. The Eurobarometer shows that citizens are much more confident in non-governmental organisations to form their opinions than in the scientific community and the administrations. Obviously, we (scientists and civil servants) have done something wrong:.
Interestingly, the European Commission has recently modified its approach and insist for “societal acceptance” (acceptance by the society). At this meeting, Marc Duponcel when presenting the state of play from the point of view of this institution spoke of ‘societal engagement”, a development that is much more than a simple change of words.
This event, where I was surrounded by colleagues from many European Academies, confirmed in my conviction that we have to build up multidisciplinary research teams. We need to enlarge our classic scope of thinking, taking account since the beginning of our research activities other disciplines such as sociology, history, political science and even philosophy.

Published: Monday, 12 December 2016 12:14 by tomasgarciaazcarate.com