What are the themes in Portugal when it comes to technology assessment?
We are working on several issues, such as the deployment of the 5G network. There are health risks associated with this because of radiation, for which there is hardly any attention in Portugal. Other countries are paying more attention. Belgium and Finland even have municipalities that have banned 5G. Our PhD student who is currently researching 5G could be a good advisor to our parliament. We have worked on genetic manipulation of food, in particular food made of animal products. And we are also looking into nanotechnology. Which new products can be developed? What are the dangers? How do these tiny particles actually interact with the human body? We still know far too little about that.
Furthermore, here in Portugal, the extraction of lithium is becoming increasingly important. Lithium is used to make rechargeable batteries for electric cars, for example. In the north of our country, a large part of the European reserves can be found, especially in nature reserves. But the extraction of lithium can have an enormous impact on the landscape. It faces strong opposition from the local population and environmentalists.
What can you learn from the Netherlands?
I often encourage my students to look at what the Rathenau Instituut is doing. When it comes to technology assessment, you are one of the most advanced institutes in the world. You are also good at science communication. You have contacts with trade unions, employers' organisations and other stakeholders. We don’t have such a tradition of science communication. With us, those contacts are really at a minimum level, mostly based on casual personal relationships. Our reports could also be made more accessible to policy makers. Now, we mainly produce dissertations of up to 300 pages. We should shorten these to documents that only answer the politicians' most important questions and include the names of people they can contact for follow-up information. It has been difficult to produce info leaflets like these for policy makers.
What can the Netherlands learn from Portugal?
Perhaps the importance of higher education for our work. Our greatest strength is that we have many PhD students who work with us. When students write their master's thesis, they have to show that they have mastered the methodology and can work with sources. When they write their PhD dissertation, they also need to be innovative, to take up a new subject that really matters.
We have also given advice to Spain. For a long time, we only had one full EPTA member on the Iberian Peninsula. The EPTA member is seated in Barcelona and supports the Catalan state parliament. For the Spanish parliament in Madrid, there was nothing at all. A group of Spanish scientists then contacted us to see what we were doing. Recently, the parliament in Madrid has a technology assessment unit, consisting of three people. Although this is a small number, the Spanish are now ahead of us. We are now letting our own parliamentarians know about this, in the hope that we can accelerate things here as well.