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The incident of Scanzano Jonico, in Italy's Basilicata region, has been something more than a lesson for those who handle the relationships between science and society. During November and December 2003 in this small southern Italian town a theory has been proven false. According to this theory, in the modern world, the best way to solve the problems put before society by science and technology would be for the experts to discuss them behind closed doors.
On June, the 23rd of last year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its Draft Report on the Environment, a report on environmental quality. The EPA is an autonomous federal agency known for its reliability on environmental studies and safeguards. Its Draft Report is considered by Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the nation's most scientifically reliable analysis on environmental quality.
A word of warning for scientists: don't appear on talk-shows. Not only would you probably run into a magician, you might even be mistaken for one, which is much worse. And do not ask the press, the radio and television to put their magical mentality aside: the media are condemned to it. It is not just a matter of what the audience wants. It is the cause-effect relations the media constantly have to establish that have per se something "magic".
In recent weeks, Britain's Better Regulation Task Force report on scientific research regulation asked the Government to evaluate the risks associated with the development of Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies. The Government was also asked to prove its implementation of a specific policy to protect human, animal and environmental safety, were it to be threatened by the development of this emerging field of knowledge. These requests may sound rather alarming.
A survey has been recently carried out for the first time in Italy concerning science communication through the media and the result has been that science hits the headlines. It is often front-page news in the press and it is also often among the main points of the news on TV. This is not very surprising.
There is no use denying it: whenever a scientist gets a piece of news in a newspaper or on television concerning his own field of research, eight times out of ten he feels irritated. The reason does not solely depend on the fact that, in his opinion, the news given to the public is often rather inaccurate or centred on secondary aspects, sometimes even distorted. There is actually something more? Something deeper that the scientist can hardly grasp.
It is often said that a new era is beginning, one that is founded on knowledge, thus envisaging a new society, founded on information. Meanwhile, technological innovation already characterises our daily lives and our vision of the world: no past generation saw their surroundings change so quickly and deeply as we do.