“A new Spring and a new Sound”. This is the famous first line of one of the treasures of Dutch poetry, the long poem “May” of Herman Gorter. It is now May 2018 and EuroScience is electing a new Governing Board. Since the General Assembly changed statutes in Copenhagen in 2014 we are electing new Governing Board members for a four-year period. It will not mark a really new beginning of EuroScience but it does provide a good opportunity to reflect on what EuroScience stands for, all the more so since EuroScience now exists for twenty years. Let us go back to the nineties of last century. One should read the very interesting history of the origins of EuroScience written by the first Secretary General, Françoise Praderie, at the occasion of EuroScience’s 10th anniversary in 2007 (history EuroScience). Building on the example of the American Association for the Advancement of Science which together with the National Academies of Science, established by a Charter of the US Congress, was part of the American nation building, EuroScience was conceived as – everything has of course to be seen in proportion – an effort to create a sense of “Europeanness” among scientists in Europe. This was 1997 and five years before Philippe Busquin, a former Governing Board member of EuroScience by the way, as European Commissioner for Science launched the European Research Area.
European policies for science, technology and innovation, concerns about the scientific endeavour, and making sure that society benefits from what science continuously offers, deserve our attention as much as they did twenty years ago, if not more. Like many businesses the scientific enterprise is facing major challenges.
For early career scientists career prospects with the looming of many years of temporary jobs and the still severe consequences of austerity policies, and the pressures of publish or perish do not create a healthy environment.
At the European level we see politicians wrestle with pitting innovation against science whereas science has always been the genuine source of innovations.
Similarly we see unresolved debates about how to increase coordination between European and national or regional instruments to support science and innovation. The latest news is that mission-oriented policies should now become the focal point in the new Framework Programme FP9 for not only EU science and innovation policies, but also for guiding national policies for science and innovation as well as many other policies in areas such as health or regulations. Not only should Europe have the goal to have the first working quantum computer by 2025, but it should be rather the quantum computer that has solved the climate science problems, is what one can hear in the debates about missions. This ignores how science has contributed most to technologies, prosperity and social and cultural advancement. The intense scientific debates how genetic studies of ancient DNA material and archaeology can combine to provide new and much better insights in the evolution of human populations or languages will not benefit from missions. The observations of gravitational waves were not the purpose of a mission but will no doubt lead to major technological advances throughout the economy.
Issues around research integrity keep popping up. Trust in science, and especially the scientific process, needs to be shored up with all due regard for uncertainties which surround new scientific results as well as for the deep and sometimes adverse impact scientific findings may have for human beings and societies.
EuroScience has to be active in all such debates. The EuroScience Open Forum, ESOF, is perhaps the most important European platform where all stakeholders in the science enterprise meet and engage in conversation on science, and its relations to society. Sometimes EuroScience will have to play an ‘activist’s’ role. That is what we did when we gathered virtually European universities, academies of science, learned societies as well as grassroots scientific movements in many countries to call on European politicians to stand firm for international collaboration, openness and mobility in opposition to the restrictions the US administration wants to impose on science. Sometimes our role is investigative and reflective, contributing constructive criticism of and options for policies.
The new Governing Board members of EuroScience, led by the new President, will have to chart their own course on all of these issues. They will need the support of all EuroScience members and their active involvement the next four years.
That is why you should vote, and of you are not yet a full member, consider to become a member of EuroScience.
All information about EuroScience Governing Board elections can be found here.