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Government plans festival to improve public understanding of science

The Swiss government has announced plans for a festival to improve public understanding of science. The project is intended to help people get to grips with controversial scientific issues, which they may have to vote on in future referendums.

The festival, entitled "Limits and Opportunities of Science", won't get underway until May next year, but the organisers are allowing plenty of lead time to publicise the project.

It's the brainchild of the "Fondation Science et Cité", which was approached by the government to come up with ways of bringing science into the arena of public discussion.

The manager, Elisabeth Weyer, says there's a real gap between the public and science in Switzerland. "People are concerned about what happens behind the walls of a university. They don't understand much of what goes on in scientific research, so when they are called to vote on a scientific issue, which has political implications, they tend to just say 'no'."

In the next few years, Swiss voters will be called upon to decide whether to scrap nuclear energy, and there may be another ballot on gene technology. The government says it wants to do all it can to ensure people make rational informed decisions when they cast their ballots.

The festival will be held in the eight Swiss university towns and consists of a wide range of public events, starting with an acrobatic show in the main hall of Zurich's railway station.

The entire project is expected to cost about SFr6 million, with most of the funding coming from sponsors and partners.

by Peter Haller

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