#cparse("/super/config/super.config.vm") #cparse("${superIncludes}/super.before-doctype.fhtml") #cparse("${superIncludes}/super.legacy-doctype.fhtml") #cparse("${superIncludes}/super.head-top.fhtml") Nature World Conference on Science #cparse("${superIncludes}/super.head-bottom.fhtml") #cparse("${superIncludes}/super.body-top.fhtml")
to nature home page World Conference on Science

introduction news opinion meetings

Nature readers express their hopes and fears for Budapest

24 June 1999

[LONDON] Ethics of developments in science; environmental issues; concerns about poverty and privatization of knowledge, and bridging the knowledge gap between developed and developing countries have emerged as important priorities that readers of Nature's website would like next week's World Conference on Science to address.

Most, however, acknowledge that the conference, while studded with good intentions, is unlikely to lead to practical action. The single most common observation is that the conference will be 'all talk, but no action'. Very few readers believe that the conference will result in more funds for developing countries.

More than 250 readers of Nature's World Conference on Science World Wide Web pages responded to our website survey in which they were asked about their priorities and concerns for next week's conference in Budapest.

Asked to name "the top priority - or priorities - that the conference should address", a large majority of respondents listed at least one from the following: free access to knowledge; the ethics of biotechnology; using science to address poverty, health and environmental concerns; science education; and public access to science.

But while many were concerned about the lack of adequate controls on science, many - sometimes the same respondents - held out high hopes that science can play a leading role in reducing poverty, and in tackling environmental issues such as ozone depletion, loss of forests, and climate change.

One reader from the Netherlands said he wants the conference to address: "The role of science in defining and achieving sustainable world development; and how to strike a balance between scientific freedom and the demands for certain ethical controls on what science is done and how."

Another reader, from India, said he wants the conference to address: "How science should come to terms with other knowledge systems and other civilisational systems."

Many respondents called on scientists to take more responsibility for their work and become better public communicators. Those respondents who are scientists included in their priorities: difficulties in securing permanent jobs, not enough funding for basic research, the need for more women scientists, and better facilities and access to science in developing countries.

Asked to name their main concern about the conference, an overwhelming majority of respondents believe it will be little more than a talking shop. "A wishy-washy, slap-on-the-back, aren't we great affair", is how one reader from the United Kingdom believes the conference will turn out. "One's main worry is that it is a lot of hot air leading nowhere," remarked another reader, from Austrlia.

In addition, some believe that the conference guest list is dominated by government-appointed delegates and ought to have included more representatives of young people, non governmental organizations, from both developed and developing countries.

"I would like to participate, even paying myself, but was told that a special invitation is required. Who can give me one?" asks one reader from Italy.

Another reader from the United States has this to say: "It will be simply a gathering of the 'usual suspects', speaking politely and guardedly, rather than facing crucial issues squarely and speaking frankly."

But one reader from Belgium is a little more optimistic. "I think it is a very good starting point to sit down and think about science and its impact on society. The risk is that there will be no concrete actions, only very nice intentions."


introductionnewsopinioncontact us

Macmillan MagazinesNature © Macmillan Publishers Ltd 1999 Registered No. 785998 England.