Publications included in this section.
Never have there been so much science and so much technology on so many sides as now. The expansion of scientific information in the social sphere is frankly impressive. In newspapers and movies, on television and radio, scientific ideas circulate freely every day of the week. Science is in cell phones, shampoo, compact discs, Olympic athletes' clothing, food, perfumes, and in so many places that trying to enumerate them would be insane. After all, why should it be particularly strange to speak of science and technology if scientific thought finally molds our deepest fibers? Today's society, developed or not, lives immersed in a scientific and technological culture which guides the course of the most fundamental events. Even though, of course, the common sense obliges us to admit that the majority of us are not fully conscious of its reach and consequences. Perhaps this helps to understand why we still feel a certain shame when, in a social gathering, we comment that our profession consists of spreading science or analyzing the ways in which it circulates and its repercussions in the public opinion. It may be that we live with the fear that someone will look at us strangely and with disbelief and ask us to explain what scientific communication or the social studies of science consist of or, worse yet, that we find ourselves in the embarrassing situation of rehearsing an answer to justify the importance of thinking about science in daily life.
In a beautiful Barcelona, bathed in sun, the 8th PCST Congress was celebrated at the beginning of June.1 Besides the magnificent location of this year, there are several other reasons to commemorate the event. The first reason is that the community of professionals and scholars interested in Public Communication of Science and Technology (science journalists and writers, scientists, sociologists, teachers, historians, science museum curators, etc.) is growing quickly.
Can (and should) there be a "Mediterranean model" of science communication? For those of us who work in the field of science communication in a country which is on the Mediterranean Sea, this has always been a question that spontaneously leaps to mind. This is because we "feel" there is something intangible in our way of communicating science that is rather similar to the way of a French, Spanish (or even Brazilian) colleague of ours, whereas it is slightly different from that of an American or British one. And yet, the more in depth this question is studied in time, the more complex the answer becomes.
The problem of accessing data is as old as science itself. Complete popularisation of scientific data (of a theoretical model), and even more so of the methods and materials used during an experimental process and of the empirical data amassed, has always been considered an essential part of the process of authentication, duplication and filing of scientific knowledge. It is also true, however, that this theory has always been a complex riddle with no simple solution. Strangely enough, in today's era of instant communication, the challenge of information access seems to be facing new, daunting obstacles, some of which have the same name and characteristics they had 100 or 300 years ago, but which have been intensified by new dimensions and unexpected corollaries. Others have a new core, an example being, the problem related to disclosure, which implies the (more or less) complete popularisation of the data, procedures, and tools used during research. This is a subject which, although ancient in form, has recently taken on new, far-reaching implications. The scientific community now has to face a problem which originated, first, with the sequencing of the human genome and, later, with that of certain types of rice; a problem which could redefine certain aspects of the epistemological practice and nature of science.
There is a substantial divergence between the standards of integrity associated with "good science" and the problems imposed by the conflict of interest on research, specially in the biomedical field. There are at least as many ways in which information may be altered and the production of new scientific knowledge may be affected as there are links that can be established between researchers, private companies, and editors and staff of the specialized press. The pressures resulting from this high number of connections can affect all stages of research, from trial design to data analysis, from result publishing and dissemination to who will be the author of the articles.
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.
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.)
Science was born when knowledge was no longer kept secret and became public. Its development is inextricably tied to the possibility that researchers continue to share the results of their discoveries as easily as possible. These are the points on which the concept of access to scientific information is based and on which the scientific community has founded its model of communication. However, there are currently numerous obstacles, mostly economic, preventing researchers from being real actors in the creation, control and verification process of scientific knowledge. Despite the technologies made available by the Internet, free access to scientific information continues to be limited by the cost of magazines and the opposition by the publishers. Hence, scientists have promoted an increasing number of initiatives with a view to re-confirming the principles of open access.
A ghost is wandering around the web: it is called open access, a proposal to modify the circulation system of scientific information which has landed on the sacred soil of scientific literature. The circulation system of scientific magazines has recently started faltering, not because this instrument is no longer a guarantee of quality, but rather for economic reasons. In countries such as Great Britain, as shown in the following chart, the past twenty years have seen a dramatic increase in subscription fees, exceeding by far the prices of other publishing products and the average inflation rate. The same trend applies to the United States.
Some recent events have brought to the attention of the general public the issue of free access to scientific information. On many occasions basic scientific information has been said to be constantly available to scientists. In truth, a group of scientists (those who live in the developing countries) have long remained on the fringes of the international research community and in part still are, mainly because of the existing difficulties in accessing scientific publications. However, this fact has never been as blatant as it was with the Human Genome Project. Indeed, the project saw an attempt to conceal and privatize the results of advanced basic research. On that occasion, the fear of a private exploitation of scientific results became a real threat.