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Is it better to be an academic in the US or Europe

Europe lead on public engagement while the US enjoy the science stimulus package – on which side of the Atlantic is it better to be a scientist?

Delegates of the EuroScience Open Forum 2010 in Turin, Italy were reminded today that while social attitudes will always trump science, there are distinct differences between practice in scientific advice for policy in the US and Europe. Values typically win over hard science and this is hard to accept for many scientists working on the cutting edge in controversial areas like stem cell research and climate change.
Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) gave the perspective from the US emphasising that the attitudes of policy makers and the public matter greatly.

“The last decade has been very rocky in the US,” he said. “Science advisor positions were downgraded so they were no longer assistances to the President under George Bush’s administration.” However with President Obama in power, distinguished scientists have been appointed to leadership positions. Base research funding in the US has increased, not counting the stimulus package.

However, scientists in the US find themselves battling against teaching methods where creationism is often taught alongside evolution. Leshner believes the answer is public engagement over public education. “Scientists often take an education approach – ‘the poor people out there don’t understand.’ Often the public understand the science, they just don’t like it.”

Europe is leading on public engagement, the conference was told by the American. However it is an uphill struggle as “the public are free to ignore, distort or deny science at will.”

While Europe leads the way on public engagement and scientists appears to have a better relationship with the public, European countries are “good at scientific knowledge creation but not so good at innovation” said Roland Schenkel, Director General of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.

“The commissioner has made innovation her personal priority,” said Schenkel who also commented that Europe needs to start taking more risks to be at the forefront of innovation.

While Europe enjoy good relations with better engaged policy makers and public, the US steam ahead on innovation with increased budgets for science. Take your pick?

Photo credit: CGP Grey

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Leila Sattary

Leila is a freelance science writer specialising in science funding and research policy. She is a former editor of the Euroscientist. She writes for a variety of online and print journals including news and features for Chemistry World, her Lab Rant column for Laboratory News and many more. In her day job she works as a Project Officer at the University of Oxford with particular interest in research policy, knowledge exchange and impact.

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