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Dec 21, 2012 Editorial
A lesson from L’Aquila: the risks of science (mis)communication

by Giancarlo Sturloni

On 22 October 2012, six members of a technical-scientific consultancy agency of the Italian Civil Protection were found guilty of multiple manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison by the court in L’Aquila. According to the prosecution, days before the earthquake that devastated the town of L’Aquila on 6 April 2009 killing 309 people, the experts failed to correctly alert the population on the actual seismic risk. The sentence was widely interpreted as an attack to science, penalised for not accurately predicting the quake. Actually, the defendants were accused of having deprived the citizens of information that may have saved their lives. This story does not hide any attack to science. On the contrary, this is the demonstration of the high regard the civil society has for the opinions of the experts. But in the so-called risk society, access to information is an inalienable right of the citizens. Beyond the legal aspects, the impression is that the lesson from L’Aquila can mark a point of no return in the relations between science and society.

Volume 11 • Issue 04 • 2012

Mar 21, 2008 Commentary
Dialogue is bliss

by Giancarlo Sturloni

The practice of dialogue does not erase the conflicts that can be found upon solid diverging interests. But conflicts are not forcedly a trauma. More then an impossible abolition of diversity, it is important to promote a practice that helps everybody to express their own point of view looking for socially sustainable solution between the parts. But according to Sturloni, «Even in that case: not a dialogue meant to achieve a utopian unitary view able to level all divergences, but to allow the expression of different perspectives and of legitimate interests. The final aim should be to make a choice shared as much as possible within the legal system of a democratic country».

Volume 7 • Issue 01 • 2008

Mar 21, 2006 Focus
Blind track

by Yuri Castelfranchi and Giancarlo Sturloni

The people of Val di Susa (Italy) blocked the construction of the new high-speed railway line that should connect Turin with Lyons (France). This project is regarded as a strategic achievement for the economic development of the European Union, but local communities have a different concept of development and are asserting their rights through ad hoc experts’ reports and the production “from the bottom” of new specialised knowledge. We shall describe these events as a case study to put ecological democracy to the test of facts, also through a comparison with the experimental actions taken in some Southern countries of the world. From Europe to Brazil, the debate on health and environmental risks resulting from modernisation is upsetting democratic societies and urging new forms of participation in the decision-making process. There is a clash between different “concepts of the world”, in which communication strategies play a crucial role and from whose outcome the society in which we wish to live in will emerge.

Volume 5 • Issue 01 • 2006

Dec 09, 2005 Book Review
Handling uncertainty

by Giancarlo Sturloni

The management of health risks related to scientific and technological innovations has been the focus of a heated debate for a few years now. In some cases, like the campaigns against the use of GMOs in agriculture, this debate has degenerated into a political and social dispute. Even risk analysis studies, which appeared in the 1970s in the fields of nuclear physics and engineering and were later developed by social sciences as well, have given completely different, and at times contradictory, interpretations that, in turn, have given rise to bitter controversies.

Volume 3 • Issue 04 • 2004

Mar 21, 2004 Focus
Anything to declare? Border stories on the conflict of interest

by Giancarlo Sturloni

On September 15, 2001, a joint editorial simultaneously published in thirteen medical journals, pointed an accusing finger at the increasing pressures coming from the pharmaceutical industry. During past decades, a key role in trial design and conduct was played by independent clinical investigators working in academic medical centres. They were also able to vouchsafe the quality of their research, which might not, however, be the case in the future.

Volume 3 • Issue 01 • 2004

Mar 21, 2004 Focus
Conflicting interests: research, profits, information, health

by Giancarlo Sturloni and Nico Pitrelli

On 15 September 2001, thirteen major international journals, coordinated by the International Committee of Medical Journals Editors (ICMJE), published a joint editorial titled "Sponsorship, authorship, and accountability". Unfortunately, only four days from the tragedy of 9-11, there is no room in the media for other news. In the scientific world, however, the content of that editorial sets off an alarm: the conflict of interest undermines the objectivity of biomedical research and the credibility of international journals vouchsafeing the quality of that research. (Translated by Andrea Cavatorti, Scuola Superiore di Lingue Moderne per Interpreti e Traduttori, Trieste, Italy.)

Volume 3 • Issue 01 • 2004

Jun 21, 2003 Focus
We are all Americans

by Giancarlo Sturloni and Paola Coppola

"Weapons of mass destruction" is the word of the year 2002, at least according to the American Dialect Society, an association which has been studying the English language in North America for more than one century and which yearly chooses the word having more relevance to American society and information. The word of the year 2001 was "Nine eleven", and the passing of the baton was very significant. September 11th has actually marked an extraordinary media watershed in the debate on the dangerousness of weapons of mass destruction. The bioterrorist threat, for instance, seems to have gained ground in newspaper pages and in programme schedules - and therefore in people's houses - together with anthrax letters terrorising America. However, though this lethal powder has remained confined beyond the Atlantic, fear has rapidly spread throughout the world, including Italy. (Taken from the book "Armageddon Supermarket" - Sironi Editore)

Volume 2 • Issue 02 • 2003

Jun 21, 2003 Focus
Preventive self-governance

by Giancarlo Sturloni

No field of western society has remained untouched by the events of September 11. Lastly, science and science communication are also bearing the consequences. During the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Denver, Colorado, on February 15, 2003, the major international scientific magazines, faced with the bioterrorism alarm and the fear of seeing important information fall in the wrong hands, announced their intention to resort to an unprecedented security measure: preventive self-governance. They consider the Statement on Scientific Publication and Security as a manifesto of the sense of responsibility that the scientific community feels about global terror. In part four, after recalling the 9/11 tragedy, the 32 publishers, scientific associations and scientists who signed the Statement (among which also the directors of Nature and Science) stated that "On occasion an editor may conclude that the potential harm of publication outweighs the potential societal benefits. Under such circumstances, the paper should be modified, or not be published".

Volume 2 • Issue 02 • 2003

Mar 21, 2003 Article
Food for thought - Communicating food-related risks

by Giancarlo Sturloni

In the last few years, a continuous series of food alerts have caught the attention of the media and the public in Europe. First, eggs and pork contaminated with dioxins; then, "mad cow" disease, while, all along in the background, a battle against genetically modified plants has been in progress. These food alerts have had complex repercussions on the perception of risks associated with food production. Experts have often been divided over these issues, and the uncertainty of scientific data has been indicated on more than one occasion as one of the factors that influence risk perception. However, the most important factor seems to be undoubtedly the way in which the risk has been communicated (or not communicated) to the public. Therefore, risk communication analysis offers an excellent opportunity to understand the profound changes that are taking place in relations among the scientific community, mass media and other members of civil society now that they are fully aware that scientific and technological innovation, the real driving force of modern industrial society, is a source of development but also a source of risks which are not always acceptable. Within this different context, a debate open to all interested parties appears to have become a dire necessity for the "risk society", especially as far as food is concerned because food has extremely important psychological, ethical and cultural values.

Volume 2 • Issue 01 • 2003