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We should discuss the relations between science and society

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at the international conference "Science, Technology and Society in the Light of Niels Bohr's Thoughts" 6 December 2013 in Copenhagen.

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Science changes society

Distinguished guests, friends of science

It is a pleasure to be here today at this historical
symposium.

If this symposium was held in 1950, things would have looked quite different.

Many of our international guests would have spent days in travel time to reach Copenhagen.

80 per cent of you would have been smokers and would probably smoke during this session.

And all of you would have sat with a pencil making notes on paper.

Today even guests based far from Copenhagen are only a few hours from home due to better flight connections, more departures and faster aeroplanes.

And I would guess that there are only a few smokers here today not least because of scientific evidence showing that smoking is harmful to your health.

Finally, I will bet that instead of pen and paper, every one of you here either has a mobile phone in your pocket or a tablet in front of you. All of us are constantly connected to the world.

Science has changed society. It has changed the way we live. It has changed the way we communicate.

Compared to 1950 when Niels Bohr wrote his Open Letter to the United Nations, our society today is even more marked by the results and the impact of science.

So I warmly welcome this initiative and the ambitions to discuss and highlight the relations between science, technology and society. Because breakthroughs in science and new technology both present opportunities and risks.

Take the internet. The internet is an eminent device for finding information and for engaging people and strengthening democracy. But it can also be used to for illegal surveillance, cybercrime and to limit democracy.

Or take drones. Drones can be used as an advanced technology of warfare. But drones can also help farmers monitor their fields or be used in search and rescue oper-ations saving lives.

Responsible research and Open Access

We need research. And we need excellence in research.

Excellence in research provides the basis for future discoveries and technologies. It is the foundation for competitiveness, growth and new employment. And it has changed our lives and our way of thinking.

It is the Danish government's clear objective to ensure the best conditions for universities and for research.

And it is the responsibility of scientists to position their research for the betterment of society.

The challenges facing today’s society require breakthrough technologies. And excellent research is vital for solving grand societal challenges – such as climate change, the ageing society and achieving a green economy.

So we have to adopt scientific social responsibility. To secure this development, research must be made available and shared internationally through scientific collaboration and Open Access to scientific publications.

Open sharing of scientific publications strengthens the development of excellent research for the good of our societies and its citizens.

In Denmark, we have successfully secured an open access policy for public-sector research councils and foundations.

The overall ambition is that all scientific publications funded by research councils and foundations must be made freely available to everyone via Open Access.

An important initiative

Niels Bohr once said about research:

"How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress".

I hope that over the past few days at this Symposium you have encountered some paradoxes, so that we might progress.

Because you are pushing forward an important debate on how we improve the relationship between science and politics.

It is a complex issue and I will not pretend to have a comprehensive answer to the question.

So I can only give credit to this initiative trying to find answers and provide valuable and much needed input in this context.

I am looking forward to the reports on the sessions. And I am looking forward to the presentation of the New Open Letter.

Thank you.

last modified Dec 10, 2013