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Last Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Public 'needs to drive science'
By Elli Leadbeater

Scientist in the lab, Eyewire/BBC
Views are wanted on emerging areas of science and technology
A new project funded by the UK government aims to give the public a chance to drive science policy.

Science Horizons is based on the premise that progress has historically come from technological development rather than social wants and needs.

In nationwide events, people will be asked to comment on simulations of how technologies such gene therapy might contribute to future life.

Their reactions will be fed into a government study on public attitudes.

"We're not saying, 'here is the future, what do you think?'" said project contributor Ben Johnson of Graphic Science, a science communications consultancy based at the University of the West of England.

"We're saying, 'this is what the future could be like, what do you want?'"

The events will range in size from major set-pieces at science centres to small group meetings in halls or even living rooms.

Dialogue and debate

An early version of the type of exercise that will be used was presented at the project's launch at the British Association's Science Festival in Norwich last week.

We need to put the people back in the future
Jack Stilgoe, Science Horizons
Participants viewed a computerised cartoon scene depicting a possible home in 10-15 years' time.

The scene reveals information about each character present. For example, in one of the prototypes, a 48-year-old female character is planning a trip to a fertility clinic, to start a family using eggs frozen 10 years before.

Users are then asked to complete a questionnaire, asking for their feelings about each aspect of the storyline.

Contributors to the project, which forms part of the government's Sciencewise consultation exercise, stress that the emphasis will be on the social impact of technology, rather than gadgets and gizmos.

The form of the tasks will vary according to the setting, and may also include paper exercises or podcasts, aiming to stimulate dialogue and debate.

"The images of the future that we are shown hardly ever include people themselves," said Jack Stilgoe, author of the project's launch paper.

"We need to put the people back in the future."


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