Dreifuss calls for dialogue between science and society

The interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss, says science must tackle social problems Keystone

The interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss, has launched a week-long festival of science in Switzerland. She said science must never avoid its social responsibilities.

This content was published on May 5, 2001 - 13:18

At a ceremony in the great hall of Zurich's train station on Friday, she called for increased interaction between the world of science and society in general.

"I hope that this week will be the start of a permanent dialogue," said Dreifuss. "What we need are scientific questions and answers which never, ever ignore social issues."

Zurich's station has been converted into a giant laboratory this weekend with scientists on hand to explain cutting-edge projects like research into BSE and regeneration of nerve fibres after injuries.

Visitors also have the opportunity to meet Gulliver, a prototype of a "smart room" which can interact with people and play games with them.

"We want society at large to be an active participant in a discussion on what type of meaning we should give this technology, how we should use it and what kind of implication, good and bad, it could have for us," said project leader, Paul Verschure, from the Institute of Neuroinformatics in Zurich.

Another scientist who was enthusiastic about presenting her work to the public was Isabel Klusman from Zurich's Brain Research Institute.

"We don't want the public to have the feeling that we are stuck in our laboratories and have no idea what's going on in the outside world. Also they should know where their taxes are going," she said.

Members of the public also seemed receptive to the idea. "I think it is quite astonishing in a way because it is the first time that I have seen science presented in this way, like a market," said Roberto Induni from Fribourg.

"On the other hand, it also demonstrates the difficulty of showing science because it can be very specialised."

Debates, plays, exhibitions and experiments have been organised across the country.

Geneva's theme for the week is the paranormal. Topics range from extraterrestrials to telepathy, magic and spiritual healing. In Lausanne, a debate on agriculture and biotechnology will pit opponents and supporters of gene technology.

Meanwhile, in Basel, the theatre director is swapping jobs with a chief researcher in the chemical industry for two days to illustrate the similarities and differences between the world of culture and the world of science.

One intriguing result will be known by the end of the week. Happiness barometers have been installed in the ten cities organising events for the festival.

Visitors indicate whether they are happy or not by standing on the "yes", "no" or "don't know" boards. Scientists will be able to assess the positive or negative energy of Switzerland's citizens, tapped during science week.

by Vincent Landon

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