Symposium 2016 – Progress in Science, Progress in Society

“The Future of Science in the 21st Century: Progress in Science, Progress in Society”

he European Academy of Sciences is happy to acknowledge and thank the Académie Royale de Belgique for its scientific and technical support.

Organization Committee

Académie Royale de Belgique: Charles Joachain (Président), Jean-Marie André, Hugues Bersini,  Gilbert Hottois

Académie Européenne des Sciences: Claude Debru (Président), Hélène de Rode (Secrétaire Perpétuelle), Natividad Carpintero-Santamaria, Martin Carrier





Videos Gallery

Welcoming speech by Prof. Charles Joachain     –      Introduction speech by Prof. Catherine Bréchignac     –       Introduction speech for EurASc by the President, Prof. Claude Debru    –     Speech by Mr. J-C. Leloup, Representative of Minister Marcourt (Belgium)

The European Academy of Sciences proposes to organize together with the Académie Royale de Belgique a Conference devoted the theme Science and Society considered from the point of view of Progress. Does Progress in Science ultimately mean Progress in Society? How to ensure that scientific progress becomes both materially and intellectually beneficial to society, including people which are far away from it and socially excluded from it? 

Progress is a common feature of science and of human societies generally speaking. There is no doubt that one of the driving forces of the material and intellectual progress of mankind has been science and technology. However, these are not the only forces acting on human history, so that their role is not always fully recognized and even sometimes refused in some parts of the world. 

One of the reasons for this lack of recognition may be that there is an increasing gap between the internal perception of science and science as perceived by society, perhaps because the extremely rapid scientific advances and their potential applications are poorly perceived by many. So that there is no direct implication leading from science to the public understanding of science, in spite of enormous, never ending efforts made recently. Science remains in its very nature a demanding, elitist exercise, far from the ordinary concerns of most people. Science does not appear to people as an end in itself. It is only a means among other ones for the service of society at large.

Indeed, an increasing number of citizens, even in modern developed countries, in Europe and elsewhere, show a growing distrust for science or even for any kind of progress, due to an increasing sensitiveness for risks, thus hampering knowledge acquisition and consequent improvement of living conditions. In the current context of individualism, the freedom of refusing is a way of asserting the primacy of the individual with regard to objective knowledge. There is an enduring conflict between objective knowledge and subjective legitimacy, because objective knowledge stands out frequently in sharp contrast to common views. 

In domains like life sciences and medicine, one can observe that fundamentalist anti-science attitudes are rapidly gaining weight in some parts or society. There is a need of an empirical sociological analysis of these attitudes, or of other attitudes like the refusal of medical practices in the field of public health. The value of science is often underestimated, with potential consequences which may appear at the political level. Another danger encountered by scientific progress has to do with the varying delays between fundamental research and its applications, leading to short-term policies and possibly to the neglect of long-term investment.


Professor Martin Carrier

Univeristy of Bielefeld, Germany 

“Contentious Research: How to Respond to the Credibility Crisis of Science”

Various indicators suggest that a considerable proportion of the public views parts of science with skepticism and distrust. Science operating at the interface with society is assumed to be commercialized and politicized and to lack in relevance and reliability for this reason. I advocate a social notion of objectivity and confirmation that centers on the reciprocal criticism of antagonistic approaches. The ensuing pluralism is capable of increasing relevance and reliability at the same time. The downside of pluralism emerges when science is supposed to guide action. I suggest two sorts of auxiliary criteria for diminishing pluralism: epistemic robustness drops factors and accounts that have no immediate relevance for the judgment at hand, social robustness leaves out all choices that hardly stand a chance of being implemented because of opposing interests and value-attitudes in the population. These auxiliary criteria do not latch primarily onto the epistemic credentials of scientific suggestions but rather focus on their practical virtues. 

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Professor Natividad Carpintero-Santamaria

Univeristy of Madrid, Spain

“Science and Social Communication”

Communication has a great influence in many sociological and psychological aspects, so that the way scientific developments are transmitted to society can significantly change their perception. Different issues will be able to attract social understanding for science if they are properly addressed in terms of general perspective, interest and values. In many cases, science broadcasting and assessment of scientific issues are not correctly done, thus causing misjudgements and social rejection. The influence of traditional mass media instruments such as newspapers, radio and TV, is being overtaken by the powerful influence of the internet due to its large scope that can reach remote places and social groups. As matter of fact internet is perceived by a large social sector worldwide as a reliable source of information. These new and powerful communication channels used for dissemination of scientific information require greater awareness to avoid that science would be potentially misunderstood or even, in the worst case, misused. This presentation analyzes how the transmission of science through social mass media can have a positive impact on people to accept science benefits or, conversely, can lead to misapprehension or detrimental effects. 

Professor Claude Debru

President, European Academy of Sciences

“A more inclusive science education : La Main à la pâte and beyond”

In 1992, the American Nobel Prize in Physics Leon Lederman started to set up an educational pogram in very poor districts of Chicago in order to replace violence by curiosity and natural experimentation in elementary schools. At about the same time, the American Academy of Sciences published detailed recommendations aiming at a similar goal. In 1995, the French Nobel Prize in Physics Georges Charpak launched a similar movement in France, “La main à la pâte” (or “Hands On”) in order to recreate the teaching of natural science, which had almost completely disappeared in elementary schools, by stimulating the interest of the pupils for scientific investigation using a practical approach. Presently, more than fifty countries are involved in this program, aiming at making science more “inclusive”. In a similar spirit of increasing the interest for science, and also of trying to fill the gap between the humanistic and the scientific cultures and educations in France, collaborations between science teachers and philosophy teachers on specific subjects at the level of the last three years of secondary education were strongly encouraged by both the French Academy of Sciences and the Inspecteurs Généraux of the French Ministry of Education. 

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Professor John R. Porter

University of Copenhagen, Denmark

“Resistances to agricultural biotechnologies, agronomy and environment”

The New York Times environmental correspondent has postulated that we now live in a ‘factless society’ in which opinions carry as much weight as evidence and personal narratives and experiences are seen every day in social media and news programmes – the personal has become the message of the media, to misquote Marshall McLuhan. On the other hand evidence has come under attack from interest groups opposed to doing anything about climate change, the use and introduction of the products of biotechnology in Europe – on the basis that the evidence is either not strong enough or that actions to deal with these issues is not warranted. The presentation will show that such pressure from lobby groups have been seen many times before, for example with the link between smoking and diseases such as heart disease and cancer. The situation is fluid however – the IPCC 5th Assessment Report was met with little opposition from the fossil fuel lobby when compared with the 4th Assessment Report and the talk will discuss this difference and the reasons for it. The talk will also question the degree to which micro-economic ‘solutions’ to climate change such as emissions trading schemes or taxes are up to the task of dealing with what is a macro-economic issue and will take some inspiration from Keynes’ approach to dealing with systematic mass unemployment in the 1920s and 30s. The case with biotechnology shows again the almost schizophrenic attitude of society towards science. Medical biotechnology engenders almost no resistance in Europe, whereas agricultural biotechnology meets considerable resistance. Issues related to these two ends of the spectrum are the questions of who benefits, the status and use of patenting and a bucolic view of agriculture. The talk will end with some suggestions of a way forward that makes better the links between citizens as scientists and scientists as citizens.

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Professor Jean-François Bach

Académie des Sciences – Paris, France

“Refusals and Resistances in Medicine : the vaccinations”

Vaccination is unquestionably one of the major advances in preventive medicine. It helped to remove several serious infectious diseases such as smallpox and polio. It significantly reduced the frequency of common childhood illnesses, some of which are severe, and of common adult diseases. Side effects from vaccines are very rare. However, a small number of militants, probably 2-3% of the population in France, defends the idea that vaccines are dangerous to the point of not justifying the risk of side effects to which they expose. All scientific data oppose these assumptions that may be called a baseless belief. However, misinformation works, relayed by some media, and nearly 50% of the French population has become hesitant. We even find among the “hesitants” a number of pediatricians. The question is how we arrived at this situation. Physicians and scientists have some responsibility. They suggested the existence of side effects that have not been confirmed but which they did not return. Public confidence in experts has weakened over time. Experts are often accused of conflict of interest. It is urgent that sociologists and psychologists look into this problem and that public authorities take all measures to reverse it. This will not be easy because what is observed for vaccinations is also observed more and more frequently on other subjects. An aggravating factor is for sure the “principe de précaution” that engraved in the Constitution the possibility of the illusory search for zero risk in all circumstances. 

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Professor Jean-Jacques Quisquater

Académie Royale de Belgique, Belgium

“From cryptography as a science to a tool for an open and trusted society”

For a long time cryptography was used as a tool to protect important informations by military people and diplomats. Thanks to computers and internet cryptography is now used more and more to protect e-commerce, monetary transactions, privacy, aso. The Internet of Things will be a success if well protected and trusted without excessive surveillance. New applications of cryptography are on the way – voting, bitcoin, blockchain, public ledger, … – and are not always well understood or well implemented. Cryptography is not only giving the way to integrate locks, padlocks, keys into the digital world but also how to propagate in space and time the needed trust and openness. 

Professor Pierre Braunstein

Univeristy of Strasbourg, France 

“An environment that nurtured pioneering science and industry : a case study”

In this presentation, I will illustrate how a small Region in terms of size, at the very east of France but very central in Europe, Alsace, has become a major centre for innovation in both academic research and industry. Chemistry as a science and as an industry and physics have occupied a central role. A number of industrial and academic dynasties have emerged in the 19th century and some are still represented today at the best level. Although this suggests that “family traditions” have played a major role in fostering excellence, this is however not inconsistent with the emergence of great talents from any type of background.

Professor Koenraad Debackere

Académie Royale de Belgique, Belgium 

“Research and the Industry of the Future”

The link between R&D and industrial activity has long been subject to extensive debate. Insights developed by scientific research have been at the origins of novel products, processes and services. With hindsight, this link has led to systematic economic progress, better jobs and more welfare. This insight, though, has not been able to alleviate fears of the disruptive power of science on industry, potentially “oversetting whole multitudes of workmen” as already written by Thomas Carlyle in 1839. Today is not different. Rapid and massive digitization, advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, regenerative medicine and the engineering of life are just a few areas where science is both creating and destroying industrial texture. This eternal gale of creative destruction and renewal is not new. Econometric evidence shows intimate and complex links between research, industry growth and job creation and destruction. New industries emerge, old industries are transformed, jobs are redefined rather than “merely” destroyed, education systems have to adapt and social security systems are rethought. In sum, the impact of research on industry has important societal consequences that in turn reshape industry. Studies of the past that underpin the development of scenarios on the future of industries show that science and technology have in general been beneficial to industry dynamics and their outcomes. This link therefore deserves ample attention from various perspectives, engineering as well as social science related. It will be at the heart of this presentation.

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Professor Torsten Wilholt

Leibniz Universität, Hannover, Germany 

“Why and in what sense ought scientific research to be free?”

The freedom of science is on everyone’s lips, but its concrete implications are often controversial. A closer look at these controversies quickly leads to deeper questions about the nature of the freedom of science itself: What are the values that are supposed to be protected by a special guarantee of freedom for scientific research? And what kind of freedoms must be granted, and to what extent exactly, so that these values can be effectively protected and brought to bear? If the appeal to the freedom of science is to make a constructive contribution to debates about science, then we need to regain a common understanding of the reasons why this freedom has a prominent normative function. In this talk I want to discuss three important justifications of the freedom of science. The first, which I call the argument from autonomy, is based on the thesis that humans must be free to investigate the world, because it is one of the basic prerequisites of self-determined life to be able to freely gain knowledge. The second, epistemological argument for freedom of science states that to allow individual scientists the widest possible freedom is the most efficient way to ensure that the sciences give us as much as possible of the kind of knowledge that we as a community are hoping to get for from them. Finally a political argument needs to be discussed, according to which the purpose of freedom of science is to guarantee the political independence of the sciences. When citizens form their political preferences, they need to have access to scientific knowledge that is unburdened by political bias. 


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