"Feeding the world, energy for the future": the motto of the upcoming Expo Milano 2015 directly explains the core issues of this big event. But it hides another global issue – health seems to be the unsaid common thread.
Someone could have hoped for a different end, but the signs were all clear: few days ago, Juncker made a final decision on cutting the role of the Chief Scientific Advisor at the European Commission. Apparently, this decision came after a struggle between the scientific community and some environmental NGPs, one above all, Greenpeace.
It calls itself “a knowledge hub”, a place where people from developing countries can share and learn at the top level. It is located in Trieste, Italy. Founded by a Nobel Laureate, it is funded (almost) by a single country, but ruled by two outstanding international organizations. It has already a great fame, due its scientific excellence and its role in promoting and educating the best young scientists from all over the world.
The debate on scientific advisory and future policies is becoming very harsh in the European Union. In the last weeks, an increasing numbers of contributions have created a huge debate about the necessity of a Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) at the European top decision level, as the mandate of Anne Glover is close to its end.
The Italian technology and start-ups are having an interesting season.
The Jean-Claude Juncker's new Commission is taking shape. The first moves showed that the Barroso structure will be changed completely. This new course has invested the scientific policymaking, starting from the appointment of the new Commissioner on Science and Innovation. Rumors said that Juncker initially preferred a Portuguese woman, Maria Luis Albuquerque, Minister of Finance in Lisbon.
How is managed the process to set up the calls of proposal in Horizon 2020? A good example of its functioning has been given by the stakeholders consultation, ended in June 2014. The consultation is the first step towards the definition of 2016-17 working program for the Societal Challenge 5, the one dealing with environmental issues.
Ecology is one of the most complex scientific field in terms of variety of related areas of study. In the last years, researchers in ecology have tried to build up a model that relates data from ecology, paleontology, genomics and phylogenies, together with localization data and climate models. This effort has been made in order to create a scientifically strong model to prioritize biodiversity conservation policies.
If continuity means importance, research and energy have been confirmed as a priority for the European Union, at least in its Parliament. Despite the challenging election of the new Parliament, on the scientific point of view nothing seems to be changed.
Anne Glover is a Scottish professor of Molecular and Cell Biology and is ceasing her position as the first EU Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) during the Barroso Commission II. She made a huge job in spreading the evidence-based method into policy making, by advising President Barroso with the most up-to-date scientific discoveries.
The biggest surprise in the European Parliament elections has been the victory of the so called Eurosceptic and Europhobic parties, such as the Front National (FN, from France), the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip, from Uk) or the Dutch Party for Freedom. Despite their proclaims, these parties come from different backgrounds and have a different approach to science and research – as clearly shown by an analysis made by Science|Business.
In May 22-25, European citizens will decide who will lead the Union for the next five years. Despite being the eighth general elections for the European Parliament since 1979, this time is particularly important. For the first time candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission had been nominated before the elections. And this means a lot.
What the economic crisis has clearly shown is that Europe cannot afford its economic growth with low R&D manufacturing products. Science and enterprises must merge into hi-tech outcomes to become markets leaders. The European Union is pushing a lot on the bioeconomy sector, namely businesses based on biotechnology. But what is exactly bioeconomy? Is it so important nowadays in Europe? And what is the situation in Italy?
What is a bioeconomy
One of the most unknown places, still far from being explored and fully understood, is not (only) the deep universe: it is our brain. That is why USA and the European Union, in the very last years, started two separate, but parallel, initiatives to map the human brain. On March 2014, there has been a public announcement that the two projects will merge. Or will they smash?
The Human Brain Project
Africa is not the most rapidly growing HIV epidemic region: it is Eastern Europe. Out of a total 2.2 millions people living with HIV in Europe, more than 60% of them are living in the East. Before 2002 this figure was stable, but in just seven years it has increased by two thirds.
The world of research today is a highly competitive environment, similar to a liberist market. Researchers are under pressure for several aspects: the scarcity of economical funds, the rising number of scientists and the political pressure that national asset have put on them in a wild competition to emerge from anonymity. In this race, one of the best key of success for a researcher is networking.
“The food and drink industry is the largest manufacturing industry in the European Union, generating turnover of €956 billion in 2010”, as claimed by the European Union itself. More than four millions Europeans work inside one of the 310.000 food enterprises (both primary and transforming). Nonetheless, 95% of these firms are composed by small or medium enterprises, which have less than 20 workers.
It happened again: after the Israeli case, Horizon 2020 is anew in the middle of a political clash. This time the situation is even worse than the Israel one, both because it is within the European geographical region and because Switzerland had been a key player in the previous Seventh Framework Program.
Some weeks ago, the European Union released the planned quotas of investment in research for 2014, the first year of the new-born Horizon 2020 program. At the same time, on January 13th the US Congress agreed on a budget, containing the American policy about investments in research. Thus, is it possible to predict in which directions EU and US research will go, by comparing these two draft budgets? Will these two policies merge or not?
Sources and methodology
Today, there are two main challenges dealing with scientific data management. As a recent paper showed, one big problem is the data loss: 80% of scientific data got lost within 20 years due to technological progress in storage or elderly of communication network (mainly old email address of authors).
What will be the data environment in Horizon 2020? Modern science is facing a huge challenge in managing data. On one hand, every year a big number of the scientific data are lost or become not readable any more. On the other hand, 80 billion Euro investments in research (that is the expected budget for Horizon 2020) could lead to an unbearable amount of data, that cannot be managed easily – with a loss of efficiency and a huge waste of public money. Eventually, one of the highest goal of Horizon 2020 will be to face Big Data.
The European Union, through Horizon 2020, will invest more than € 28 billion in innovative research to contrast the economic stagnation. This investment will be divided into four general bunch of programs, namely the contractual Public Private Partnerships (cPPPs), the Joint Technology Initiatives (JTI), the Public-Public Initiatives and the SESAR - Joint Undertaking program.
On November 27th, Iran, the US and the major European Countries reached an historical agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, the so called Geneva Interim Agreement (officially “Joint Plan of Actions”), even though its effectiveness has yet to be proven.
An effective and practical expenditure of public funds can lead to excellence: Denmark can be seen as a case study for this. The small north European country is known for being the country with the highest public spending on education relative to GDP, namely 8.7% of the total. And probably will be known for being the most efficient country in gaining funds from Horizon 2020 (H2020).
Being the largest research program funded by the European Union, Horizon 2020 (H2020) is becoming the arena even for non technical issues related to science. The knowledge economy has a core related to political and, mostly, ethical issues. These dimensions do not belong to mere technical question but to more wide questions, that can be summarized into: which are the ethical boundaries in H2020? Which will be the rules for European scientific research in future?
Xinxing daguo ganxi. If you are able to pronounce this properly, you know the keyword for future (science) diplomacy. Literally, it means “new idea of great power relationship”, a vague and general term that could lead to anything.
Challenging the mass. This, probably, will be the next big issue in science together with ethics and politics, as millions of scientists all over the world produce tons of scientific researches everyday. In this crowded environment, the question is how to find the excellence.
How to deal with the huge number of informations provided by scientific research today? And, how these informations can be transformed into political decisions? These could be the questions that brought the Organization of United Nations (UN) to create a new board of scientists, which will refer directly to the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki Moon, and to others heads of the main organizations of the Un system.
Horizon 2020 is taking shape. In June 2013, negotiators from EU Parliament, the Commission and the Irish Presidency of the Council informally agreed on specific questions dealing with the incoming EU's next research program.
In the most developed Countries (OECD Countries), 60% of young people enrolled into a University or a research institution in the last decades and this percentage is rising in the growing countries from 15% to 30%, on the average.
Italian scientific research is slowly moving toward Far East.
Commonly known as “start up nation”, Israel is still leading global scientific research, despite its little population and a serious international situation. This is due to two key-points: first, a competitive R&D investments, which brought high quality to Israeli universities; second, a public driven linkage between scientific research and commercial companies, which produces more investments in R&D.
“Science and diplomacy are naturally allied. Energy security, food safety, global warming or pandemics: there is no global challenge that diplomacy can face without the help of the scientific community”.
"Mio giovane puledro affamato, non ci sono piante buone per il cibo che non lo siano anche per la cura, purché prese in giusta misura”: così l'erborista Severino ammonisce il giovane Adso (desideroso in realtà di carpire il nome delle “erbe che provocano cattive visioni”) nel romanzo “Il nome della rosa” di Umberto Eco. Dallo studio delle “piante buone” è nata la farmacologia moderna, che però, nell'ultimo secolo, si è sviluppata nella sintesi chimica dei principi attivi e nell'industrializzazione degli stessi, relegando l'erboristeria a un ruolo sostanzialmente marginale.