Science Friction

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Science  29 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6089, pp. 1619
DOI: 10.1126/science.1226098

As European Commissioner, I encounter fantastic Science every day, more often than not while meeting the scientists who produce it. That is why I am particularly looking forward to the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) 2012 in Dublin (11 to 15 July). Scientists' passion for their work is infectious and has driven me to give them all the support I can. I am not a scientist, although I have gained a deeper appreciation for science in recent years. What I am is a politician. That means that what I understand well is the business of using scarce resources in the best way possible.

At the moment, budgets are very tight in Europe and elsewhere. It is clear to me and my colleagues in the European Commission (EC) that a greater portion of those scarce resources must be devoted to science. However, not everyone gets it, and as we meet in Dublin we are facing a battle to maintain the central place of science in European society. There is a real risk that science might be seen as a luxury as governments look for budget cuts. On a more fundamental level, scientific knowledge may even be at risk of losing its preeminent position in this modern information society.


Science is a necessity, not a luxury. The world is facing challenges on a scale not encountered before, including climate change, geopolitical upheaval, and demographic shifts. This has made policy-making more complex than ever, and informed decisions require the best evidence-based knowledge and advice we can produce. Science is also the key to our economic recovery. In Europe, countries that have invested in research are weathering the recent crisis much better. Innovative companies are more resilient, continuing to attract customers with the best products and services. So investment in science is investment in competitiveness and jobs.

But for me, scientific enquiry is important in itself. Curiosity-driven science defines and shapes human progress. The Large Hadron Collider may generate spinoffs and business opportunities, but it has a noble quest: to address some of the most fundamental questions of physics, advancing our understanding of the most fundamental laws of nature. I am very proud of the great work of the European Research Council, which in its first 5 years has already helped more than 2500 top researchers to follow their curiosity.

The EC recognizes the need for more science. That is why we have proposed an increase from €55 billion to €80 billion for our 7-year research budget, to fund our future research and innovation program Horizon 2020. Starting in 2014, Horizon 2020 will fund everything from the best frontier research to close-to-market applied science. It will be complemented with proposals to create better framework conditions for research and innovation. These include recommendations to complete the European Research Area, a true single market for ideas in Europe. We are also investing in research infrastructure through cohesion funds and meeting Innovation Union commitments, such as the unitary European patent, the setting of common standards, and facilitating access to venture capital.

The challenge now is to make sure we bring everyone along for the ride. The European project is based on progress, and science means progress. But the old models of doing science from on high are obsolete. We have to collaborate more widely across countries and across disciplines to meet our current challenges. We have to explain better what science is doing and why, in language that nonscientists can understand. We need to encourage more children to study science, not just so they can participate in the knowledge economy, but because a basic understanding of science is essential for living in an ever more complex and technological world. So when we meet in Dublin in July at ESOF, scientists have to stand up and be counted. They have to convince policy-makers to invest in science. And they have to convince the public to continue to believe in science. I will be with them all the way. Because science matters, now more than ever.

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