For many years, numerous controversies within the scientific community as well as in the public sphere regarding techno-scientific issues with potentially long-lasting consequences for the future development of our societies, humankind and our planet have been witnessed. Climate change, loss of biodiversity, development of agro-food systems (GMOs, biotechnology, biosafety, food sovereignty), emerging technologies (e.g. nanotechnologies), degradation of ecosystem services, agricultural policy are some of the diverse and most prominent examples.
Furthermore, uncertainties in scientific results, inadequate scientific knowledge, narrow risk assessments, premature commercialization, lack of alternatives in research to counterbalance dominant technological approaches, the loss of diversity in science, the imperative of competitiveness and forced economic valorisation of research, and thus the relationship between science, technology and democracy as a whole need reflection and reaction more than ever before.
More independent research is needed, integrating knowledge from different scientific disciplines, new research questions and methodological approaches, including a broadening of the discussion on the required science and level of evidence, creating new and permanent links to other non-scientific knowledge systems, and reducing the influence of industry on those knowledge systems that should be used to assess and control its activities.
Many critical scientists felt that the moment has come and must be seized to focus the debates constructively towards the development of new concepts, in particular for the assessment of techno-scientific developments. Establishing a platform that allows scientists in Europe to discuss their views amongst them and to coordinate and publicize their opinions beyond the respective national science circles and to European societies at large could be one answer.
In summer 2008, a group of scientists suggested that an European network of scientists should be formed to give a stronger voice to those scientists who develop their hypotheses, concepts and methodologies independently from the commercial application of the technology.
The GMO debate shall stand here as an example. One of the current critical issues is the application of genetically modified organisms in agriculture and food production. Ever since this technology emerged in the 1970s in California/USA, it has been subject to intense public debates. In Europe, the controversy includes local initiatives objecting to field trials, national governments promoting the interests of the biotechnology industry, EU-wide operating food retailers that develop GM-free policies for their brands, EU decision makers that reject the advice of EFSA, the central scientific body of the EU, and a European Commission that finally decides to give approval to GM products while EU Member States do not agree on authorising them.