History of Science Journalism

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Science during This Era

Scientist-entrepreneurs and ethical issues

As never before, scientific research allows use of technology on human life and the environment and the phenomenon raises ethical questions. Several issues have spurred controversy, in particular genetically modified organisms (GMO), assisted reproductive techniques, cloning, stem cells and nanotechnologies.

The confirmation of climate change has caused scientific interest to converge on the environment (ecology, oceanography, meteorology, etc.). Research is escalating in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.

This is the era of the scientist-entrepreneur

Often the researcher is part of a research institute operating much like a business. He becomes a scientist-entrepreneur. His goal is to quickly produce applicable research results that can be patented and marketed to generate profit for universities, businesses and government. Universities have opened research commercialization offices and university-business collaboration is encouraged.

To stimulate the 'knowledge society' and the 'knowledge economy', government has established new organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI, 1997), Genome Canada (2000) and Génome Québec (2000). Since 2000, thanks to the Canada Research Chairs Program, the federal government has invested massively in university research. However, the question of funding remains a sensitive issue. In 2008-2009, many players in the scientific community criticized the federal government and recent budget cutbacks imposed on the research community.

Research establishments on the scientific communication playing field

Scientists and establishments have increasingly sophisticated means to publicize their results. Research grants now include an outreach budget to circulate results, and sponsors insist on this dissemination. Consequencely, some science journalists have migrated towards communications positions in research establishments.

Safeguards to protect the public interest

Faced with ethical, social and economic concerns generated by scientific breakthroughs, the state has attempted to control the application of innovations. At the federal level, the government encourages scientific societies to group together into academies that might play an advisory role. In Quebec, the government established the Commission de l'éthique de la science et de la technologie (http://www.ethique.gouv.qc.ca/). Among other things, this commission looks into assisted reproduction, seed production, use of biometric data for security reasons, nanotechnologies and organ donation and transplants.

In the scientific community itself, a critical outlook now exists regarding the impact of science and technology. To bolster public debate of their opinions, some scientists have grouped together under the international pacifist movement known as Pugwash, founded in the Nova Scotian town of the same name (http://www.pugwashgroup.ca/), or under the American movement, Union of Concerned Scientists (http://www.ucsusa.org/).