Scottish microbiologist Anne Glover would like to change that. She just took office in Brussels as the first European chief scientific adviser and her first goal is to get people information in the hopes that they will stop listening to advocacy groups and accept science overall the same way they do politically charged topics like climate change.
Science magazine conducted an interview with Dr. Glover and it is mostly what you expect; science is awesome, they need more women, they need more young people, etc. That isn't really relevant in America. We have more women than men getting Ph.D.s and we produce six times as many Ph.D.s as can get jobs in academia so, unless we count the private sector as also doing science (whaaaaat??) we already produce a lot of people. Rather than the National Science Foundation spending billions trying to convince people that want to be doctors they should instead be computer scientists, the cost-effective solution is to get rid of the 1990s-era work visa protectionism scheme that lets really smart foreign students get Ph.D.s here and then makes it impossible for them to get jobs, so they have to return home and compete against us. As I have advocated for the last six years, instead of turning more Americans into scientists, we should turn more scientists into Americans.
Anne Glover, formerly Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland, is now the voice of reason for all Europe.
But she addresses something that is the Big White Elephant In The Room regarding Europe and science; a whole lot of people are anti-science unless it matches their world view. Sure, Democrats love astrology and Republicans love global warming in the U.S. but those are not harming people (yet). Being anti-science when it comes to food harms poor people right now.
Europeans, more than Americans, have a jingo-istic love of progressive economic policies but they are ultra-conservative when it comes to science; they distrust anything new, despite how well-know and tested it is and fringe activists exploit that mentality.
Welcome, Dr. Glover. Here is hoping you are allowed to give lots of rational input, and perhaps have some say before the EU implements more rules saying things like that water does not make people less thirsty.
A.G.: If you take people's opinions, for instance by looking at the Eurobarometer, people seem to be reluctant to accept innovative technologies. They are suspicious almost just because it's new, rather than thinking: "Oh this is new, I need to find out more about it so that I can judge." At the moment, we are way too much on the side of: "It is new I don't want it, not even discuss it." This leaves the door open for pressure groups which are against certain things and have a very loud voice. There should be more communication about the rewards of the technologies. I would like to balance that.
Q: Are you talking about genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?
A.G.: Yes, that is the most important example. In the beginning, decades ago, people were careful to get good regulations in place. Over time, it has been shown that GMO is not a risky technology. But people seem not to have all the information they need to make their own decision. It is not up to Europe to say: "You have to do this," but give the information and let them choose.