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Friday, October 30, 2009

R&D in Europe, October, 2009

Today:
  1. Germany seeks leadership in electric cars
  2. Bonn climate talks ‘augur badly’ for Copenhagen summit
  3. Youth group concerned about university-industry links
  4. EU R&D efforts hampered by 'eco-religion'
  5. EU medical trials law 'putting brakes on science'
Quote of the day: Ok, can you tell me, honestly, how a man with "PhD in philosophy" can be "an environmental health risk consultant". Is it just me or this is crazy?! How could possible a non-scientist discuss the problems of science in Europe and claim that he knows what's going on?! This is absurd!!! (this is about article number 4 and I'm really mad on this guy!)

Germany seeks leadership in electric cars

21 August 2009

Germany lawmakers on Wednesday (19 August) approved a plan to put a million electric cars on German roads by 2020, in a bid to become the worlds top market for electric vehicles.

As part of the plan, the government will spend €500 million to develop battery technology and build a network of charging stations across Germany. The government's goal is thereby to place Germany at the cutting edge of innovation amid tough international competition.

According to EurActiv Germany, automotive analysts acknowledge that Germany is behind the pace in the "green-car" race, with countries as diverse as China, Japan and the US investing heavily in electric and other alternative techologies. This week, the Japanese manufacturer Nissan unveiled its all-electric Leaf, scheduled for mass-production in 2012, and other big car-makers including Daimler, Mitsubishi and General Motors have models ready for production.

In Europe, many countries have already introduced schemes, often more ambitious than the German one, to create markets for electric vehicles. Spain has pledged to put one million electric cars on the roads by 2014 while Portugal plans to put in place Europe's first national recharging network for electric vehicles.

The UK, on the other hand, plans to offer subsidies of up to £5,000 to encourage motorists to buy electric or plug-in hybrid cars. The German plan does not provide such direct incentives to opt for an electric car.

However, German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee and Economics and Technology Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg suggested, while presenting the plan, that the introduction of electric cars could be boosted through "cash-for-clunkers" type incentives, EurActiv Germany reported.

The German government propped up its car-scrapping scheme with €5 billion euro, ten times that earmarked for its electric car revolution. The subsidy - paid to car-owners who traded in their old cars for new ones - proved very popular, boosting the sales figures of the ailing car industry.

The auto industry welcomed the injection of money into the development of the niche techonology. But many cautioned that the plan would hardly lead to a revolution in the market as only a small fraction of German cars would run purely on electricity in 2020, even in the most optimistic scenario.

However, according to WWF Germany, only a 1% reduction in car emissions would be achieved by 2020, even if Germany reached the goal of 1 million electric cars. In any case, one can only talk about zero-emission vehicles if renewable energies are used to recharge the batteries, the conservation organisation stressed, pointing out that the plan does not specify a link to building new renewable energy sources. source

My comment: I agree, this isn't such a big step but I believe it is an important one. Because, let's be real about it, right now people are still somewhat suspicious towards the electric cars, which means they don't buy enough of them, which means, there isn't enough of infrastructure that is useful to them, which means that even if they want to buy, they have enough of reasons not to do it. And the end results is that since there isn't enough buyers and also enough real competition, the prices are still way too high. So one should start from somewhere in order to break this vicious cycle. Germany chose a way. Not very enthusiastic, but a way. And compared with the over-all trend for economy vehicles, I think it could and should work. I only hope that this won't be their ecological commitment in its wholeness. I mean there is so much to do. For example, the idea that each house should produce its own electricity is MARVELOUS! But it requires some heavy thinking, since this isn't exactly peace of a cake to introduce and manage. There is change of the infrastructure that should be considered, change of the way companies measure the consumption of electricity (smart metering) and so on. It's not only a matter of money. It's a matter of even more money. So, this should be high on the schedule as well. If we want to be serious.

Bonn climate talks ‘augur badly’ for Copenhagen summit

18 August 2009

The latest round of international climate talks in Bonn last week ended with disappointing results, raising concerns that a lack of progress is now effectively making a comprehensive climate deal in Copenhagen in December unrealistic.

The informal talks under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on 10-14 August were intended to cut down the negotiating text, which swelled to over 200 pages after the last talks in Bonn in June.

Only "selective" progress was made to consolidate the huge text, according to UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer stated. "If we continue at this rate, we are not going to make it," he warned.

Funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries remains the main stumbling bloc.

Poor countries that are just going through with industrialisation insist that rich nations have a historical responsibility for climate change and should assist them in acquiring technologies needed to halt greenhouse gas emissions. But the EU and other industrialised countries want the developing countries to chip in, at the very least, by compiling national emission reduction strategies, before they put any money on the table.

Another central disagreement remains the scale of each party's contribution to emissions reductions in the spirit of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. Little progress was made however last week to define the respective responsibilities.

Figures released by the UNFCCC on 11 August showed that the emission reduction pledges so far tabled by industrialised countries would result in a 15-21% cut from 1990 levels. But this falls far short of the 25-40% that the UN scientific body Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says is necessary to halt global warming below the critical 2°C threshold.

Developing countries have called for the developed countries to shoulder their full responsibility by committing to at least 40% cuts in the midterm. The EU has so far made the most ambitious offer by pledging to raise its 20% goal to 30% in case other industrialised countries, notably the US, take on comparable targets.

The US has, however, clearly indicated that it will not budge from its 2020 targets, preferring to focus on the long-term instead.

source

My comment:Please, not that this article is from AUGUST! This was the previous round of negotiations. Do you see any progress as concerned to those of the last 2-3 days? Not at all. Well, what does this tell you? That the progress isn't even selective, it's NONE! The funniest thing of all is that the real reason why developing countries will pollute is because our own productions move into them. So, we're again at the source of the pollution. So without a tax that will make polluters stay at home and stop polluting, we are doing nothing. I don't see a great difference between a polluter at China or Ecuador or a polluter in Bulgaria or Germany. So, boys and girls, the progress might not be stopped, but it certainly can be stopped. And in the case, it's the greed that's doing it. Because we very well know what it should be done, but we don't do it, because we don't have the will and the commitment to do it. Oh well. Tant pis!

Youth group concerned about university-industry links

31 August 2009

The growing trend of allowing industry groups to influence university curricula threatens academic independence, Luca Scarpiello, a bureau member at the European Youth Forum (YFJ), told EurActiv in an interview.

Scarpiello said the education sector should be vigilant in protecting intellectual freedom, particularly when cooperating with industry.

"Industry should not have direct input into college curricula. This is a task for the state and society at large. There needs to be an open and public debate about what we want education to do and what type of educational provider can best provide the required competences," he said.

Scarpiello said third-level institutions must be adequately funded in order to avoid becoming dependent on support from businesses.

"It is imperative that academia keeps its academic freedom and is aware of possible challenges to this when entering into cooperation with industry. Academic institutions therefore need to be funded through public means as they need stable funding to fulfill their educational and fundamental research tasks."

However, he said that if academic freedom is guaranteed, cooperation with industry can improve research and provide new learning opportunities for students through internships.

EU Commissioner for Education and Training Ján Figel' said earlier this year that European universities have significant untapped potential, "especially in their ability to establish links with the business community" (EurActiv 6/2/09).source

My comment: This is a short article, but I just have to emphasize how much I agree with it. Universities are crucial for the freedom of thought and the freedom of science and they should protect this independence with any means possible. This is simply extremely important. If the industry needs to teach its workers something then it (and they) should offer different stages and specialization to the students. This is fair and this is the way it should be. Connections should mean more opportunities to specialise and learn interesting things, not free messing with the curriculum.

EU R&D efforts hampered by 'eco-religion'

31 July 2009
European companies are finding it increasingly difficult to covert research into innovation as politicians turn to the precautionary principle and Europeans reject science as a 'force of evil', argues David Zaruk, an environmental health risk consultant, in an interview with EurActiv.

"Science is paying a big price in Europe because of the precautionary principle, both in terms of lost opportunities for innovation and loss of trust in science," said Zaruk, who is also a senior research associate at the Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Zaruk holds a PhD in philosophy and has a background in communicating science in the chemicals sector.

The most-used definition of the precautionary principle in the EU is that formulated by the European Environment Agency, he said: "Until you have enough information to be certain about something, you should take precautions."

This definition has reversed the burden of proof, taking it away from policymakers and putting it onto industry and academia, Zaruk explained. "Before, scientists could develop an innovation and market it, after it was up to others to prove and test that it is dangerous. Now, you need to prove something is safe before it can be marketed."

He said EU chemicals regulation REACH was a good example of the reversal of the burden of proof: "During the process, the whole point of REACH shifted from ensuring the safe use of chemicals to that of substitution. But how can you prove that substitutes are safe?"

According to him, scientific exploration has become extremely difficult in the EU, research is not encouraged and researchers are now held "guilty until proven innocent".

"Precaution was created as a tool for policy, by those who think science has gone too far," Zaruk argued.

"I used to believe that if you can communicate science clearly to politicians and the public, you can get better policies and improve public perception. But I'm not that optimistic anymore," Zaruk said.

"Increasingly, facts don't matter very much," he said, claiming that despite its goal of becoming a knowledge-based society, Europe is "more and more an influence-based society" in which science is under attack from "eco-religious fundamentalists," he argued.

Scientists are only a small part of the policy structure and their opinions can be brought into the policy debate, "but not necessarily," Zaruk continued. He stressed that not only corporate lobbyists, but also NGOs, are very effective in the way they are affecting policies. He argued that NGOs enjoy the greatest influence on EU policies shaping science.

He also noted it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit good scientific experts for the EU's risk assessment process, as they "are getting fed up" with EU policies being driven by elements other than science.

Nature is no longer seen as the "vicious beast" from which science can protect us, but as "the polar bear adrift on a melting glacier," forced there by science and technological advances, which cause carbon emissions and global warming.

"We are talking about a new religion, the eco-religion," he said.

Eco-religion also assumes that "natural is good, and synthetic (man-made) is bad," he said, adding that science is increasingly associated with "non-natural endeavours and hence bad". This "eco-religious cultural narrative" calls for the use of more "natural stuff", looks up to "sustainable science" and drives eco-labelling and green procurement decisions, he added.

To some extent, loss of public trust in science is also due to unkept promises, Zaruk argued. People see the risks, but do not yet see the promised benefits "because they are just promised," he said, referring to GM technology, for example. source

My comment: Ok, can you tell me, honestly, how a man with "PhD in philosophy" can be "an environmental health risk consultant". Is it just me or this is crazy?! How could possible a non-scientist discuss the problems of science in Europe and claim that he knows what's going on?! This is absurd!!! And yes, he is right, one of the main problems in Europe is that policies are done not by free experts but by lobbyist and pre-paidexperts that decide not on the basis on facts, but on the basis of public and private opinions backed by serious amounts of money. Is this the way to do real risk assessment? I think it is not! How can one trust in science if s/he cannot know what kind of scientist has done the evaluation - independent or not at all. How can a scientist make a free assessment in such environment! This is utter nonsense. And the truth is that science really suffers, but not from the precautionary principle, because this applies only to (bio)engineering and chemicals. And pharmacy. No, the science is suffering because people fail to understand that science's purpose in life isn't to create products and to earn money. Science is about knowing the Universe in all of its shapes and forms. If something comes out profitable - fine. But this isn't the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to induce human well-being and to improve our quality of life. And the financial parameters are not concern of the scientists. And the safety assessments are a financial, not a scientific problem. Because if something is safe, it is safe. When there isn't enough information, you wait until there is. And since you're interested in humans health and well-being, not about someone's pocket, you don't mind to wait and people know that it's safe for them. But what is being done right now with chemicals and nano-particles is a major nonsense and a very dangerous one too. Because natural things are usually taken into account in our bodies. Unnatural things should be used with care.It's not too hard, right?

And last but not least, sustainability is great. It's the best way something can exist. Not because of nature in general, but because of us. After all, why paying for something, when we can not pay?!


EU medical trials law 'putting brakes on science'

25 August 2009

European rules on medical research have decimated academic studies due to spiralling insurance costs and bureaucracy, according to a leading academic.

Professor Dietger Niederwieser from the University of Leipzig said the EU's Clinical Trials Directive was designed to cater primarily for the pharmaceutical industry and that academia had been "forgotten" by lawmakers.

Speaking after the first of five workshops which seek to examine the impact of the directive, Niederwieser says the rules are geared towards trials by companies hoping to approve new drugs while ignoring research on quality standards or which compares the effectiveness of surgical procedures.

"Academic trials are down dramatically. There were ten times as many research trials taking place in academia before the directive came into force," he said.

Niederwieser said the cost of conducting trials in Germany had risen by a factor of ten, without any major increase in quality.

"This directive is putting the brakes on science in Europe," he added.

Variations in how the law is interpreted across Europe is making it difficult to conduct research in several countries as part of a single project, says Niederwieser, who is the president of the European Group for Blood Marrow Transplantation (EBMT).

However, he accepted that there had been some improvement in streamlining the process for securing ethical approval for trials. Asked whether the current directive could be tweaked to fix the flaws he has identified, Niederwieser said he was not optimistic. source

My comment: Just in line with my previous comment. When laws are made for the industry and not for the people, we all suffer. It's not because of the eco-religion, it's precisely because of this idiotic lobbyists that take the money, make sure something becomes a law and do not care what exactly the consequences will be. Well, guess what, big pharmacy companies also need quality scientists. Who's going to create those scientists if the academic research is miserable?! A mystery.And a complete misery.

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