On November 18-19, 2016, the European Academy of Sciences organized a conférence devoted to the theme Progress in Science, Progress in Society, in cooperation with the Académie Royale de Belgique in Brussels. The European Academy of Sciences is an international non-profit organization aiming at promoting excellence in science and technology. It is a community of highly selected, top-level scientists from all-over Europe, and open to a restricted number of non-European scientists with strong research links to Europe.
In recent years, the Academy, acting in cooperation with universities in Europe, organized conferences on such topics as Science and Ethics (Porto, 2014) and Impacts on Climate Change (Brest, 2015). Following these multidisciplinary meetings on timely subjects, the conference on Progress in Science Progress in Society was a significant event. It is now published.
Progress is a common feature of science and human societies generally speaking. Undoubtedly, one of the driving forces of the material and intellectual progress of mankind has been science and technology. However, these are not the only forces acting on human history, so that their role is not always fully recognized and even sometimes refused. Does Progress in Science ultimately mean Progress in Society? How to ensure that scientific progress becomes both materially and intellectually beneficial to society, including people who are far away from it and socially excluded from it?
There are many reasons why the value of science for society is not always fully recognized. In spite of never-ending efforts, there is no direct implication from science to the public understanding of science, due to the very elitist nature of science. There is a growing distrust for science even in modern developed countries, due to an increasing sensitiveness for risks and to the current primacy of individual judgment over objective knowledge in our very individualistic societies. Diagnosis is rather easy, remedies are not that many: education again and again, self-reflection, combining critical and constructive attitudes. The speed of information and communication technologies which is a major feature of contemporary lifestyle is part of the problem but, as one of the contributors, Yves Poullet, writes in the volume, may be part of the solution.