ESOF 2014: Bridging the gap between science and society

March 26, 2013 - 06:03

In June 2014, Denmark will host an international conference to solve challenges of the future and discuss ethical dilemmas.

> Professor Gunnar Öquist explains how an enhanced dialogue can strengthen society. (Video: Kristian Secher, Videnskab.dk)

Scientists from all around the globe will flock to Denmark to chip in on the debate about how we can solve the obstacles of the future with science.

It all happens in the summer of 2014 when the international science conference EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) kicks off in Copenhagen.

Professor Gunnar Öquist chairs the ESOF programme committee. He thinks it’s very important that everyone can participate in the debate about tomorrow’s society.

“The goal behind ESOF is to facilitate a dialogue between the sciences and society,” he says, adding that gathering scientists from a wide range of areas and disciplines should ensure that everybody profits intellectually from the conference.

“We try to orchestrate meetings between people with complementary knowledge to bring them together in discussion and forward thinking.”

Creating a platform where the scientists can express and promote their thoughts and ideas to a broader audience is essential, says the Swedish professor, who hopes the dialogue will strengthen the bonds between the world of research and the general public.

Ethical questions up for debate

Another important aspect of ESOF is to shed light on ethical questions:

”Think of the gene revolution,” he says. “Our increased knowledge of genes can contribute to numerous wonderful applications but at the same time we must be very aware of how our new knowledge can be used.”

We need to bring together the natural sciences, engineering, social sciences, economy and the humanities in a common discussion.
Professor Gunnar Öquist

With today’s gene technology it is not only possible to be tested for certain gene markers that increase your risk of developing cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, but unborn babies can also be tested for these genetic ‘errors’ during pregnancy.

“There are huge ethical implications in how we choose to use this information,” says Öquist.

He hopes an improved interplay between the sciences and society might help introduce a set of guidelines for the future.

Mingling researchers = diverse thinking

Over the course of six days scientists from all around the world will be discussing a wide variety of topics ranging from general health and state-of-the-art gene research to surveillance technology, virtual reality and robots. The idea is to make all the various fields of science work together.

“We need to bring together the natural sciences, engineering, social sciences, economy and the humanities in a common discussion,” says Öquist, who hopes that if the scientists share their research and findings with each other, new ideas which may otherwise have been inconceivable could arise.

ESOF should be a place where knowledge can develop. Exposing the scientists to a variety of research fields is key in that regard, he says.

Knowledge will piece together future puzzles

Expectations for the conference are running high in Denmark. The Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education hopes to attract an audience of close to 30.000 ‘science tourists’ for the six-day conference. Meanwhile, public exhibitions and talks around the city of Copenhagen will ensure a free flow of science topics for those who are not taking part in the conference itself.

The professor is hoping the debate will ignite a scientific discourse that will extend far into the future.

Facts

The EuroScience Open Forum is a biennial pan-European meeting dedicated to scientific research and innovation.

“We have to make decisions for the future,” he says, adding that those decisions can only be made in a joint effort between scientists and public.

“Societies based on knowledge have a better chance of dealing with future challenges but also of putting knowledge into the service of humanity.”

The EuroScience Open Forum kicks off the debate for the future on 21 June 2014 in Copenhagen.

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Read the Danish version of this article at videnskab.dk

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Professor Gunnar Öquist believes that the future of society depends on today's research. (Video: Kristian Secher, Videnskab.dk)

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Translated by
Kristian Secher