Timidity and a hostility to competition have left Europe a scientific wasteland
Compared to the US, Europe is falling behind in the technology stakes
Published by The Telegraph, Sept.5, 2017
Marcel Kuntz and Alex Berezow
A recent study published in the Oxford journal Science and Public Policy reveals the harsh reality of the state of science in the European Union: “Europe lags far behind the USA in the production of important, highly cited research.”
The scale of the problem is substantial. Using calculations based on the number of highly cited papers and Nobel Prizes, the authors estimate that groundbreaking discoveries per head are four times more numerous in the US than in Europe. While the authors believe misguided research and funding policies are to blame, the problem is also cultural: Europe is held back by technological timidity and an uncompetitive ethos.
Technological timidity is shown by the “precautionary principle. Enshrined in EU law, the principle allows government to regulate any technology that might be considered hazardous. While that sounds sensible, it has drifted in practice, leading to arbitrary bans on safe chemicals (such as phthalates and pesticides) following their demonisation in the media. Similarly, an entire scientific discipline has been rejected: agricultural biotechnology.
Essentially, the precautionary policy is rooted in postmodernism, a worldview guided by “Western Guilt” over historical events, both real and imagined. Postmodernist ideologues not only consider Western culture as a force of domination, but view knowledge itself as a tool of oppression. From their relativistic perspective, postmodernists believe that science is simply an opinion, no more enlightened than any other.
The climate is made worse for science since so many of Europe’s politicians reject evidence-based policies in favor of pacifying an activist fringe. Emmanuel Macron, France's president, is “greenwashing” government policy. He agreed to a dogmatic and unrealistically large reduction of nuclear power in his country's energy mix, following in the footsteps of his feckless predecessor, Francois Hollande, who agreed to the closure of a nuclear power plant. Furthermore, to boost his bona fides with the anti-technology Left, Mr Macron appointed a popular green activist (who is both anti-nuclear and anti-pesticide) as environmental minister, oblivious to the fact that nuclear power and modern agriculture produce net benefits for the environment.
Despite her PhD in chemistry, Chancellor Angela Merkel also pandered to green activists in Germany by agreeing to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants. Ironically, Germany now must rely more on dirty, carbon-emitting coal. To consolidate support among her Bavarian allies, Mrs Merkel banned GE crop cultivation.
In short, the most influential countries across Europe spurn proven technological benefits because of politically constructed fears and exaggerated risks. This dangerously holds back innovation. Indeed, Europe is now reaping the “rewards” of its leaders’ pusillanimity: A study in Critical Reviews in Biotechnology concluded that the political climate of the EU is preventing biotechnology researchers from addressing the needs of Europe’s farmers.
Beyond technological timidity, Europe is plagued by an uncompetitive ethos, which manifests itself in two major ways. First, Europe is outspent by the United States in research and development. The 2017 Global R&D Funding Forecast by R&D Magazine expects that the US will be responsible for 25.5 per cent of global R&D funding this year, with Europe responsible for only 20.8 per cent, a difference of about $100 billion.
Second, Europe’s corporations are small compared to their American counterparts. According to The Economist, the top 500 businesses in America are worth just under $20 trillion, while the top 500 in Europe are worth half that. This matters because a substantial proportion of R&D is paid for by industry.
The EU prides itself on the use of soft power to influence global events, but in the realm of science that power has been used for suppression. It has shamelessly promoted its foolish opposition to agricultural biotechnology, harming African farmers by depriving them of its benefits and preventing them from exporting GE crops to Europe. The EU’s lack of competitiveness creates a vicious circle in which innovation is discouraged and the economy stumbles, which disproportionately harms its youth. Instead of lecturing the world, and the US in particular, on how to live a well-regulated life, it is time for Europe to abandon its simpleminded and ideological approach to technology and embrace individual freedom – as well as common sense.