Past Program

May 19 - May 21, 2008

Science and the Citizen


Joint Conference of the 21st Century Trust and the Salzburg Global Seminar


There is a fundamental, often unrecognized but ultimately irresolvable, issue for science in a democracy. In theory, scientific authority is based on ability and on knowledge obtained with methods validated by peers. It is therefore hierarchical or at least meritocratic, with those who have not pursued the discipline having no standing in debate. In contrast, the authority of citizenship is universal and equal. Everyone's point of view has equal weight. This conference will examine the points of tension which may arise in the relationships between scientists and citizens, and how they may best be resolved. The main questions under discussion include:


How does a state regulate scientific activity when faced with experts (some of whom may be acting out of self-interest) and a public which may not easily understand the real risks and benefits? What are the dangers of science becoming politicized? What weight should the state give to the views of citizens whose opinions are shaped by moral or religious views inimical to the utilitarian ones so often used in addressing risk and benefit issues?


What role should the media play with respect to science - that of public educator or watchdog in the public interest - and what is the correct balance between these? Moreover, how do media excesses in this area - such as over-trumpeting the importance of discoveries or engaging in scare stories - complicate debate? Given the need to boost circulation or viewing figures or other structural constraints of modern media, how can science communication best be enhanced?


Finally, how successfully has the more paternalistic model of 'public understanding of science' been transformed into 'public engagement with science'? Is there any fundamental schism between scientists and the public over what is important in forming one's views about the surrounding world?


Payment information: The fee for the conference is $ 550. The fee includes accommodation and meals, tuition and fees and social events, but does not include travel expenses.


Bank Transfer: IBAN: AT 401953000100180942; Bankhaus Carl Spängler & Co., Salzburg, BIC (Bank Code) SPAEAT2S, Austria


Space is limited and reservations will be confirmed in the order in which they are received. For further information about this conference, contact Helene Kamensky