VISIT TO DENMARK, 2-5 NOVEMBER 1999
Note by the Chairman
1. I and three other members of the Sub-Committee,
and our Specialist Assistant, visited Denmark for three days in
November 1999. The programme of meetings, all of which took place
in or around Copenhagen, was arranged to give the visitors a sense
of the Danish approach to dealing with science that causes public
controversy. We were interested in the different institutions,
particularly the Danish Board of Technology, which Denmark has
developed in order to address concerns that we recognised from
our inquiry, and in how the emphasis on consensus in Danish life
and politics, greater than in the United Kingdom or the USA, influenced
the relationship between science and society.
2. My companions were Lord Howie of Troon, Lord Perry
of Walton, Baroness Platt of Writtle, and Dr Adam Heathfield.
Gary Kass of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology,
who was visiting Denmark as part of a Winston Churchill Memorial
Trust Travelling Fellowship, accompanied our party and provided
invaluable assistance in planning our programme of meetings. We
cannot praise highly enough the many busy people who were so generous
with their time in receiving us on our visit, so informative when
discussing the points we wished to address, and so forgiving of
our lack of Danish as to speak to us in English throughout our
stay. We wish particularly to place on record our thanks for the
hospitality and assistance we received from HE Mr Philip Astley,
HM Ambassador to Denmark, and his staff, notably Mr Nick Alexander
who accompanied us to all our meetings.
3. This note is a summary of the main points brought
to the visiting party's attention during our time in Denmark.
The text in italics represents our comments on information received
in each of the meetings, that in plain text is either background
information or observations made to us by our hosts.
4. The cost of the visit was approximately £5,000.
5. Where finances are mentioned in the note, an approximate
currency conversion is DKK 10 = £1.
Ministry of Research and Information Technology
- Knud Larsen, Permanent Secretary
- Ove Poulsen, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Research
- Merete Reuss, Head of Analyses and Strategies
- Karen Siune, Danish Institute for Studies in
Research and Research Policy
6. The Ministry of Research and Information Technology
has the political responsibility for research, universities, IT
and telecommunications. It was established as an independent ministry
in 1993 as the co-ordinating body for Danish research. It currently
employs around 160 staff; its budget in 1998 was DKK 7 billion
7. Parliament adopts the Danish research budget annually,
and the Ministry has to translate the budget allocation into activities
that support the science base and meet general societal aims.
A 60:40 split between basic science and politically-directed research
8. The Danish public have high levels of interest
in and understanding of science, particularly regarding health
matters. These factors do not lead to a deferential attitude to
scientists, but to a feeling that the public should be involved
in setting the science agenda. Such attitudes extend beyond science;
Denmark has a strong voting culture, and what was described to
us as a generally sceptical attitude if expected to defer to expert
9. Denmark has tried to develop institutions through
which public views can be included in science policy. The Ministry
stressed the importance of leaving science and technology to the
experts, but there were political decisions about science in which
the public should be involved. It was important that public views
were used to inform Parliament and the administration, rather
than to influence the science agenda directly.
10. Examples of different mechanisms that allowed
the public to get involved in discussions about science included:
- The Danish Board of Technology, a statutory body
which reports to Parliament. It uses a variety of methods to assess
technology in society.
- The Council of Ethics, which considers the ethics
of biomedical topics. It holds its meetings in public and reports
- Public meetings with the Minister of Research
held across Denmark.
- The Ministry of Research Web site, which has
a page inviting suggestions for topics to be studied under future
EU Framework programmes.
- University performance contracts: a new concept
introduced in Spring 1999 which includes a requirement for universities
to hold meetings with public representatives, staff, students,
and external experts to check the general support for their overall
research aims. However, in the first round of this new performance
contract system, the plan to hold public meetings could not be
- The Parliamentary Research Committee, which accepts
suggestions for questions from the general public.
11. It appeared to us that Denmark was a long
way behind the USA in terms of open government, but increasing
efforts, including an ongoing parliamentary investigation, were
being devoted to making information public.
Central Scientific and Ethical Committee (CSEC)
- Dr Kamma Bertelsen, Chairman, CSEC
- Jens William Grav, Arne Skibsted Jacobsen, Steed
Levin Nielsen, Edith Holm, Anne-Marie Bønløkke Larsen,
Hanne Koktvedgaard (secretary)
12. The CSEC is at the head of a system of 8 regional
ethical committees whose role is to review the ethics of proposed
medical research programmes; the nearest equivalents in the United
Kingdom are local medical ethics committees. The CSEC is appointed
by the Minister of Research, the regional committees are appointed
by local government. The current system was given its legal foundation
13. For medical research involving humans, it is
mandatory to get the approval of the CSEC before the research
starts. Failure to do so can result in criminal prosecution. Protection
from unnecessary risk and gaining informed consent (especially
for under-18s) are key elements of the CSEC criteria.
14. The unique element of the system is the composition
of the committees. Medical experts are represented, but the statutory
regulations of the committees state that they must be in a minority.
Lay members, normally local politicians, are in the majority.
15. The committees do not meet in public, nor are
their minutes made public. Only the approval or rejection of each
proposal is disclosed. The Government is encouraging the CSEC
to be more open, but issues of privacy (for individuals and companies)
are raised in the types of projects they have to assess.
16. The presence of a lay majority on the ethical
committees caused surprise among some of the visiting party. The
Danish model is aimed at building public trust by making it clear
that ethical considerations, rather than research interests,
were the deciding criteria in allowing research to proceed.
It is apparent that the successful working of the system requires,
in addition to the regulatory framework, that the medical experts
and applicants trust the lay membership to make reasonable decisions,
and that the lay members trust the technical advice of the medical
experts. Lay majorities on the ethical committees have not significantly
changed medical research practice in Denmark, indicating that
systems designed to build public trust do not necessarily hamper
Parliamentary Research Committee
- Hanne Severinsen MP, Chairman
- Lise Hækkerup MP, Tove Videbæk MP,
Søren Gade MP, Committee Members
- Lis Grønnegård Rasmussen, Committee
17. The Research Committee is one of 17 standing
committees in the Danish Parliament. Its role is to shadow the
work of the Ministry of Research. It is the committee to which
the Danish Board of Technology report. The work of the Committee
involves more meetings and hearings than scrutinising legislation.
The Committee visits different parts of Denmark, discussing university
research. Topics that the Committee has considered recently include
patenting of research and disclosure of sponsorship.
18. Ms Severinsen described one format used in Committee
hearings in which the Committee oversee a discussion between experts
with different views on a contentious science topic. At the end
of such a meeting, it was normally very clear which ideas were
worthy of being pursued and which were not.
19. The Research Committee clearly felt that there
was a role for lay opinion in forming science policy. They regarded
themselves, drawn from elected representatives, as being approximately
representative of public views. The Danish Board of Technology
(DBT) were one of a number of sources of useful information for
the Committee. One very important contribution of the DBT was
in assembling experts to be interviewed in Research Committee
hearings. It appeared that the DBT's work involving public participation
was interesting but not vital to the Research Committee; the results
of consensus conferences (see DBT below) were attended to seriously,
but it was clear that decisions on science policy were made by
politicians, not by any form of direct democracy.
Technical University of Denmark (DTU)
- Hans Peter Jensen, Rector, DTU
20. Rector Jensen gave us an outline of the DTU's
history and current state of health. He described the general
decline in the number of graduates in engineering and science
subjects, saying that in Denmark there was much more student interest
in anthropology and economics than in natural science. About one
quarter of the DTU's intake were women; Rector Jensen said there
was fairly equal gender representation in chemistry and environmental
science, but mechanical engineering and informatics had a disproportionately
small number of female students.
- Associate Professor Ulrik Jørgensen, Department
of Technology and Social Sciences
- Associate Professor Michael Søgaard Jørgensen,
Department of Technology and Social Sciences
- Associate Professor Christian Clausen, Department
of Technology and Social Sciences
- Dr Annegrethe Hansen, Department of Technology
and Social Sciences
21. The Department of Technology and Social Sciences
(abbreviated from its Danish title to ITS) conducts research into
the effects of technology on (and its interaction with) cultural,
social and environmental conditions in Denmark. Its applied research
aims to develop methods to allow the public to influence the decision
making behind technological development, including a research
programme under the title "Sociology, and Technology and
22. The ITS also organises a Science Shopan
organisation which provides research for citizens on request.
Individuals, public-interest groups, trade unions and local government
agencies can all submit questions to be addressed. The Science
Shop has been operating for a number of years, and is modelled
on a well-established Dutch system.
23. The DTU's Science Shop receives 25-45 requests
each year. Only some are suitable to be taken up as research projects,
and about 20 are carried out. Popular subject areas have included
environmentally-friendly technology, technology for the disabled,
and organic food production. The projects are carried out by students
as part of their training, under the supervision of senior academics.
24. The meeting highlighted the fact that although
Denmark has developed many methods of assessing the interactions
between technology and society, there is a perceived need to advance
this area of work still further. Even in the area of biotechnology,
where Danish regulations and research and development policy were
"very negotiated", there was considerable scope for
improvement. Certain groups, such as researchers, patent holders
and policy makers, have well-defined stakes in a new technology,
and they can influence how it develops. Other groups, like prospective
end users and general members of society, will also be affected
by any new technology, but including their views during development
stages is far harder.
25. Annegrethe Hansen said that despite the requirement
that government-funded biotechnology research projects must include
assessments of ethical, environmental and health impacts, public
concerns raised in the 1970s and 1980s have not been sufficiently
taken into account. She considered that the industrial and research
communities have focussed on developing new applications rather
than addressing public fears.
26. The Science Shop concept seems to be well
suited to Denmark, and is an idea that might usefully be expanded
in the United Kingdom (where there are two science shops, both
in Northern Ireland).
Danish Board of Technology
- Lars Klüver, Director
- Jan Ejlsted, Vice-Director
27. The Danish Board of Technology (DBT) was set
up in 1985 and given a permanent legal foundation in 1995. It
has an annual budget of DKK 10 million (about £1 M). Its
stated objectives are to "further the technology debate,
assess technological impacts and options, and advise the Danish
Parliament and Government"; it reports to the Parliamentary
Committee on Research. Written into its establishing Act is a
commitment to "take up participatory procedures", and
it has experimented widely to find technology assessment methods
that suit the distinctive Danish ethos. The two consensus conferences
organised in the United Kingdom have used methods developed by
the DBT; the work of the DBT was the main reason for the Committee's
visit to Denmark.
28. The DBT chooses the topics it wishes to study
(except for parliamentary hearings). Suggestions can come from
within the Board, or from members of parliament, government, researchers,
NGOs, and private citizens. No parliamentarians are allowed on
the Board, which helps to maintain the DBT's real and reputed
29. Much of the value of the DBT is in bringing together
different groups with a range of perspectives on new technologies.
At its simplest, this can involve expert scientists and parliamentarians;
more complex networks are involved if a spectrum of views from
the general public is sought. Close links to Parliament are clearly
important in giving the DBT credibility and persuading people
to give up their time to participate. However, such links need
to be created with care, since independence is essential for the
DBT to function effectively.
30. The DBT have developed a range of different methods
of technology assessment that they can apply to different types
of problems. Having many different methods at their disposal,
and having a suitable institutional culture, were central to the
success of the DBT. The presence of the DBT was not a panacea
for conflicts over new technology, but it provided a valuable
forum in which different views of politicians, scientific experts,
NGOs and members of the general public could be exchanged.
31. Consensus conferences were singled out for discussion.
It was agreed that they were expensive to organise (DKK 700,000,
including staff costs) but were cost-effective when compared to
traditional social science projects or to developing technology
that no-one wanted. Consensus conferences tended to act as milestones
in debates, but were not suitable for all stages of technology
development; many topics were better addressed using other methods.
32. The idea of consensus was important in many of
the methods the DBT used. In Denmark, consensus meant the highest
level of agreement that could be reached without any party actively
objecting; it implied neither compromise nor unanimous support.
An important area of the DBT's work was to identify areas where
conflicting parties could find agreement, and thereby begin a
33. Discussing the possibility of providing "early
warning" of potential controversy, Mr Klüver said that
the DBT had tried but with little success. He noted that controversy
was not always undesirable, since it was frequently required before
the public would become engaged in a debate. Consequently, even
if early warnings were identified, it could be difficult to raise
a political or public debate in advance.
34. A concern of some members of the visiting
party was that consulting the public on technical matters could
result in a form of direct democracy, in which the role of elected
representatives would be reduced. We were assured that our fears
were groundless. The results of the DBT's work were made available
for Parliament to use as it saw fit, and the DBT had no role as
an arbiter in technology debates. Indeed, the DBT were anxious
to avoid too direct an impact of their work, since focussing on
the output of consultations might obscure the value of the process.
Meeting hosted by the Faculty of Social Sciences,
University of Copenhagen
- Tage Bild, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences
- Bente Hagelund, Head of Office, Faculty of Social
- Professor Margareta Bertilsson, Department of
- Associate Professor Charlotte Bloch, Department
- Professor Hans Siggard, Copenhagen Business School
- Maja Horst, PhD student, Copenhagen Business
- Professor Karl Axel Gemzell, Department of History
- Professor Thomas Søderquist, Science and
Society, Medical History Museum
- Associate Professor Hanne Foss Hansen, Institute
of Political Science
- Mette Nordal Svendsen, PhD student, Faculty of
- Janus Hansen, University of Copenhagen
35. The meeting with various social scientists was
arranged to provide some information about the social context
of science in Denmark, and to provide the visiting party with
a better idea of how the different institutions we had visited
fitted into Danish society.
36. The main message of the meeting was that public
scepticism of new technology was not a manifestation of an anti-science
culture, and should not be mistaken for outright rejection. Rather,
it reflected a more discriminating public demanding more information
and greater opportunity for debate. Denmark's highly knowledgeable
society provided a classic example of the "information paradox",
in which more education led to increased scepticism. Greater public
understanding of science reduced unquestioning trust in scientists.
37. When science is used to provide legitimacy for
policy, conflicts can occur between scientists and the public
because the two groups are accustomed to different ways of reaching
closure in a debate: the public are familiar with political methods,
whereas scientists use technical evidence.
38. We were was unable to meet the Danish Council
of Ethics during our time in Denmark, but its role was described
to us during this meeting. The Danish Council of Ethics was created
by an Act of Parliament in 1987. It considers ethical problems
arising from developments in the field of biomedicine, and is
responsible for informing the Danish Parliament, public authorities
and the population at large on these matters. The Council of Ethics
is a deliberative body of experts whose meetings are held in public.
The Council of Ethics has no judicial power and is not able to
suspend research areas it considers unethical. Although most recommendations
of the Council of Ethics were not followed by Parliament, its
existence gave people reassurance that ethical concerns were being
- Asger Høeg, Executive Director
39. The Experimentarium is Denmark's only science
centre. It was opened in 1991 and its stated aims are to "promote
interest in natural science and technology in the community as
widely as possible and to create a social and cultural meeting
place between community, industry, commerce and scientists".
One million of the 1.7 million people in greater Copenhagen have
been to the Experimentarium since it opened. 60 per cent of Danish
schools send parties to visit. The Experimentarium has 300 hands-on
exhibits, and organises one or two special exhibitions each year.
40. When discussing more general aspects of science
education in Denmark, Asger Høeg expressed the opinion
that the reduction in student numbers studying science and technology
in Danish Universities was related to high standards of living.
Current students have never had shortages of food or energy, and
take their presence for granted. In this context, problems in
psychology seem more important than technical ones.
41. The Experimentarium is a well-resourced institution
which is clearly successful at getting children to try all sorts
of different experiments and demonstrations. A notable feature
was the absence of computer-based exhibits, a deliberate policy
which reflects the fact that computer simulations are not the
same as "real experiments". Although the Experimentarium
is designed for participation rather than formal learning, the
links with school work are important. Teachers who visit get ideas
for demonstrations and analogies; there are opportunities for
teachers to have some valuable in-service training. Children who
visit remember the exhibits and subsequent references to them
in class assist learning.
42. Denmark, with a population of around 5 million,
is one-tenth the size of Britain. She has evolved institutions
to give effect to a society whose political philosophy is to seek
consensus rather than confrontation. Though still less open and
transparent than the USA, Denmark's bodies such as the Danish
Board of Technology, the Danish Council of Ethics, and the Central
Scientific and Ethical Committee offer reassurance and, to some
extent, involvement to a public which tends to be suspicious
of both government and experts, including scientists. Yet science
and technology policy remains firmly in the hands of the Danish
Parliament and the elected government and its agencies, and there
is little in the way of "direct democratisation" of
science, as is sometimes suggested. In particular, the much-vaunted
Danish consensus conferences are used as only one, fairly expensive,
means of assessing public reaction to scientific developments.
43. Yet the various institutions and procedures
do feed into government policy-making, so giving an assurance
that public views, attitudes, culture and values are regularly
assessed and taken into account. As we state in our report, it
is this aspect of the Danish experience which is relevant to our
inquiry, rather than any of the specific Danish institutions or
procedures. As so often is the case, it would be difficult to
emulate successfully the solutions of another country, and attempting
to apply them in the very different context of one's own would
JENKIN OF RODING
31 January 2000