France Universités

"Raising awareness of the scientific process among young people is a big step toward strengthening the link between Science and Society": interview with Nathalie Dompnier, President of the University of Lyon 2

France Universités : date de publication

Within the framework of its “Science and Society” working group, chaired by Virginie Dupont, France Universités will hold a seminar on December 15, 2022, on the role of education in strengthening the links between science and society. The production of scientific and technological knowledge plays an essential role in our society’s response to major challenges relating to the environment, energy, health, and the economy. However, the relationship between citizens and science is ambivalent: it is full of curiosity, but also of mistrust.

Nathalie Dompnier, President of Université Lumière Lyon 2 and Vice President of the working group, discusses the indispensable role of science in understanding reality and the challenges facing our society, and suggests ways to strengthen these links. 

For her, “in a society that is always looking for immediacy and certainty, it is essential to explain that research is made up of doubt and trial and error, and that it also requires great modesty.

What is the relationship between citizens and science?

The relationship with science is very diverse and sometimes ambivalent. There is a real taste for science, an interest, a curiosity. Science responds to a need to explain the world around us. It also responds to a desire to acquire tools to meet the challenges we are facing as a society. It allows us to travel in time (we know how successful archaeology and history are) and in space (in the most distant societies as well as in the worlds of the infinitely small and the infinitely large). But there are also sometimes forms of mistrust of science, questioning of scientific discourse and challenges to its legitimacy.

Bringing citizens closer to science means sharing research results and enabling everyone to take them on board to better understand the complexity of the world and to fuel social debates, as well as to fight against disinformation and “fake news”. France Universités, for example, has taken action on this subject by organizing days on information disorders.

To what extent is education a key to strengthening these links?

Raising awareness about the scientific process among the young children and having them learn about it at school, integrating it into teaching methods, and organizing workshops and meetings with researchers, is undoubtedly a powerful lever for strengthening these links. The current use of participatory research methods, associating citizens and researchers who confronted with the same societal issues, also provides an opportunity for fruitful encounters between science and society. To implement these actions and to meet these new challenges, many universities have invested resources and mobilized their teams in continuing education and in science and technology initiatives involving primary and secondary school teachers. But it is also essential that universities develop better means to train, accompany, and support researchers, and in particular doctoral students, who are often fascinated by these approaches.

It is also a question of providing as many people as possible with the keys for understanding, and with the tools for thinking, acting, and showing how science is constructed and how scientific knowledge progresses. In a society that is constantly seeking immediacy and certainty, it is essential to explain that research is made up of doubt and trial and error, and that it also requires great modesty.

With this in mind, France Universités is involved in several events. Since 2014, it has been involved in the “Ma thèse en 180 secondes” competition and in the Forum des Nouvelles Initiatives en Médiation Scientifique. France Universités has also contributed to the opening of the Maison de la Recherche Irene et Frédéric Joliot-Curie in Brussels, and has developed rich partnerships through the Fête de la Science, the Pariscience Festival, the Nuit Européenne des Chercheur.e.s, etc.

To what extent are universities taking up this challenge? What is the purpose of the “science and society” working group launched by France Universités in 2021?

For a long time now, universities have been working to disseminate knowledge, of course through teaching, but also through conferences for the general public, interventions in the media, expert reports, collections and museums, training courses devoted to scientific mediation and communication, etc. Within the framework of the “Science with and for society” approach, they are now working to better structure these actions, to strengthen links with centers of scientific, technical and industrial culture and with numerous partners involved in scientific mediation and participatory science. In March 2021, the network of Science and Society vice-presidents was created.

And in November 2021, France Universités created the “Science and Society” working group, bringing together University Presidents, the network of Vice Presidents for Science and Society, and various guests.  The aim is to support universities in their reflections and to stimulate new initiatives.

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