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Letter from Turin

The Euroscience Open Forum, now in its fourth year, was conceived to offer European scientists, journalists and policymakers an opportunity to discuss burning issues, similar to the annual event of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. But so far ESOF fails to live up to the standards set by its American counterpart.

As is often the case with events that carry a ‘European’ billing, ESOF is an attractive showcase for the host country — Italy. But where are Europe’s scientific movers and shakers?

The 2 July inauguration ceremony filled the largest lecture theatre at Turins Lingotto conference centre to the max, with people standing in doorways and sitting on stairs to listen. The panel, however, was a national affair. The city of Turin lined up its mayor, provincial councillor and one of its most successful business leaders. Together with a journalist, who chaired the session, the speakers did a good job to promote Turin. But science was mentioned only to advertise its university and “lively innovation landscape”. At which point the first audience members left the room.

Two years ago ESOF took place in Barcelona, an event that was seen by most of delegate as extremely successful, with lively talks and important discussions. This year, the organisers extended ESOF from 4 to 6 days, but extra days does not necessarily mean extra quality.

AAAS is used by science organisations around the world to make important announcements. Europe has a strong presence at this meeting, as does China,India and Latin America. The event is influential and newsworthy, so much so that the European Research Council chose AAAS, rather than ESOF, to announce its new president. The biggest news item weve had from ESOF so far is that a planet has been named “Torino” after this years host city.

Europes research community is trying very hard to make ESOF a success, and,with 3,000 delegates they are not doing too badly. But if the event wants to be internationally competitive its contributors have to work together and develop international aspirations, rather than using ESOF to boost national prestige.Just like in European science, really.