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Sunday, 7 September 2014

Does the European Commission Think Science is a Problem?

Does the European Commission think that science is a problem? Does it think that there is something wrong with scientists and their values and beliefs? Does it think that there is something wrong with people who go by the title of technologist or engineer, those cousins to scientists? Evidently it does!

Previously I have mentioned ICT & ART CONNECT which, as formulated by the European Commission’s DG CONNECT, is about bringing artists’ creativity into the world of technology development, specifically that of research and development relating to information and communication technologies. What exactly are they implying?

I have also mentioned in earlier blogs, Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) which is a new initiative in the context of European Commission funded research in the Framework Programme, Horizon 2020 (see last weeks blog). The five pillars of RRI are: Public Engagement; Gender Equality; Science Education; Ethics; and Open Access. So again I ask, what exactly is the European Commission implying?

There is also a new initiative called Science 2, which consists of a whole raft of measures centred on openness, with the hope being that this will result in a more robust and sound science and society relationship. The desire is that more openness may also lead to more trustworthy science from the perspective of the citizen and civil society organisations. Once more I ask what is being implied?

I suspect that if challenged the European Commission would find the words to deny any suggestion that they were implying anything negative about science, engineering and technology, or scientists, engineers and technologists. This, one might say, is the problem, because these groups have gained a pernicious influence over our lives and to question them is to be branded as someone suffering from a lack of right-mindedness and in need of re-education. It is in short, a heresy to question science, engineering and technology, and one which invites those within the spheres of science, engineering and technology to deal with their critics as the ideologically inclined have a tendency to do – refer here to the history of the Catholic Church, the Communist states, and the Nazi state. That they do not yet resort to such extremes is not a measure of their tolerance, but merely a matter of legal restraints. Yet they find other ways to do the same thing … to silence their critics.

ICT & ART CONNECT, RRI and Science 2 come with a silent narrative that goes something like this: There is nothing fundamentally wrong … all we need is ….

But there is something fundamentally wrong, which can be summarised as: science, engineering and technology, and the people who practice in these domains, are no longer fit for purpose and it is time to consign these very primitive belief systems and those who work within them to history, and to develop much more sophisticated approaches, and different types of scientists, engineers and technologists. And of course those who call themselves scientists, engineers and technologists will not do this. Put simply there are too many Ann Glover mindsets to overcome, too many Prometheans bound to their rocks of the past, so the answer is to … I will in due course explain the strategy and tactics that involve unleashing on Europe the forces of creative destruction (otherwise know as innovation).

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