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Issue no. 0 - 2003

by Redazione FGB [1], 7 January 2003

The scientific world as possible "supra-government" and the distance between the collectivity and the world of science are the two strands along which the issues in page 6 of the site's Topics section are structured.

"If it's Possible it will Happen", the first of these, is made up of questions and answers.
It sets out a range of viewpoints arranged around the terms power, knowledge, speed, choice, decision, responsibility and future.
It takes up an article by Marina Corradi published in Avvenire (a daily newspaper) in February 2002, in which we can read the opinions of the rector of the Università Lateranense, Mons. Rino Fisichella; the geneticist, Edoardo Boncinelli; the Principal of the Pontificia Accademia delle Scienze, Nicola Cabibbo; and Ivan Cavicchi, General Manager of Farmindustria.
Is it possible that the scientific community, or part of it, might end up making its choices independently, without waiting any longer for a political input, without the legitimation that comes from the assent of the elected representatives of the citizens?
This is the question around which their answers revolve.

The complex relations between the words "knowledge" and "power" are considered almost in explanatory terms in the second theme on the page, "Experiments and Democracy: the transgenic rice of Casalino".
On October 22 last year, in the little Italian town of Casalino (Novara), a public assembly was held entitled "Agri-food experiments: forms of citizens' participation".
In an area that has long been home to rice-growing, this initiative was prompted by the rumpus caused by the cultivation of a very special type of rice, genetically modified to resist the action of a herbicide. About 30 years ago, a local farmer rented out a small piece of land to the University of Piacenza's Botanical Institute and the group of researchers led by Corrado Fogher decided to carry out experiments - perfectly legal - on transgenic cultivation methods.
When word got out in Casalino about the transgenic rice, it emerged that none of the inhabitants had known about the experiment.
In the debate on 22 October the hope was expressed that the democratic process would catch up with events and equip itself with instruments to enable citizens to have a say in decisions.

The third issue on page 6 of the Topics is entitled "Science as Magic" and draws on an article by Umberto Eco, "The Magician and the Scientist", published in La Repubblica on 10 November 2002, and his presentation to the International Scientific Conference chaired by Umberto Veronesi that took place in Rome on 10 November 2002, the national day for cancer research.
Eco's presentation was called "The Perception of Science by Public Opinion and the Media".
The distance from decision-making, difficulties in fully understanding the possible results of choices, and the growing gap between those in the know and those who are not, lead to a reflection on how scientific development is perceived by the social community.
"There is sometimes a pactum sceleris between scientists and the mass media whereby scientists cannot resist the temptation, or feel it is their duty, or that it might help with fund-raising, to provide information about on-going research. And so the research is immediately reported as a discovery - with inevitable disappointment when people realise that the results are far from ready".

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