As May’s European elections approach, Horizon takes a step back to see what science can tell us about European politics. We look at the latest research into people’s opinions about the EU and how they’ve changed, particularly in response to the financial crisis of 2008, and ask what needs to be done to bring the public closer to politicians. We speak to cryptography expert Dr Steve Kremer about why most of us can’t vote online yet, and democracy specialist Prof. Wolfgang Merkel about the changing political party structures in Europe and whether this is a threat to democracy. We also find out how scientists are working to detect and flag fake news on social media in order to increase the transparency of the information people encounter online.
The rise of right-wing populism is being fuelled by polarisation in society that we must address without resorting to the claim of moral superiority, or protest voters will become the permanent supporters of these new parties, says Wolfgang Merkel, director of the Democracy and Democratisation research department at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Germany, and professor of political science at the Humboldt University of Berlin.
Fake news has already fanned the flames of distrust towards media, politics and established institutions around the world. And while new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) might make things even worse, it can also be used to combat misinformation.
The upcoming European elections will reveal how recent challenges such as immigration, the financial crisis, Brexit and the rise of populist parties will play out in the political arena. But the elections are also providing an opportunity for researchers to understand how to better engage voters and ensure the European Union remains relevant to its citizens.
Online voting is often considered a way to improve voter turnout and security. But according to Dr Steve Kremer of the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation, computer scientists have got a long way to go before they make it a viable alternative to pencils and paper.
In August, Horizon takes a look at the quest to make Europe’s cities environmentally sustainable, while also ensuring a healthy and prosperous population. We speak to geographer Professor Harriet Bulkeley on why cities have such an important role in fighting climate change, what it means for a city to be sustainable and the big challenges that lie ahead. We look at the construction of zero-energy housing, homing in on the case of Nottingham, UK, and find out how scientists are putting nature back into the old Spanish capital of Valladolid. We also talk to the city officials breathing new life into historical buildings in Bologna, Italy, and learn how urban planners and architects are taking emotional feedback into account when designing new public spaces and homes.
How can science help refugees to successfully make a new home in Europe? In July, Horizon examines what we mean when we talk about integration and how research can help refugees build a better future. We speak to Dr Dominik Hangertner at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, about defining integration in order to measure it, the impact of current asylum policies and how big data can help resettlement decisions. We examine how researchers are looking into specific programmes that schools can establish to support adolescent refugees and how media literacy is one such area that can empower young newcomers. We also look at how longer-term mental health needs are being addressed and we speak to researchers and scientists who came to the EU as asylum seekers about the challenges of starting over in a new country.
Rivers in Europe are so congested with concrete obstructions like weirs, bridges and other man-made barriers that they no longer flow freely, which harms the wider environment. Removing these blockages could restore these vital aquatic ecosystems to their former glory.
It is used as a fertiliser to help crops grow, burned as a fuel for heat, and is even used as a building material. But exactly when and how humans began using dung is a mystery that is now starting to be unravelled by researchers.
Free flowing rivers have almost entirely vanished across Europe.
Animal droppings are still used to fertilise crops, as fuel and even for building.
R&I missions will mean rethinking the economy - Prof. Mazzucato.