Prof. Dan Larhammar is a molecular cell biology professor at the University of Uppsala, the President of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences as well as the Chair of ALLEA’s new project ‘Fact or Fake: Tackling Science Disinformation’. In this interview, he shares with us insights into his work on tackling pseudo-science such as homeopathy and alternative medicine, as well as how these trends work to some extent in similar ways as science disinformation efforts.
“It is important to be aware that many who use or provide alternative medicine honestly believe that it works (…). The believers must be offered an honourable retreat, so to speak, if they are to abandon ideas they may have held for many years.”
“Science disinformation is a term used not only for different types of distortion of scientific facts but also attacks on science in order to undermine trust, for instance by spreading contradictory information, weaving conspiracy theories, questioning expertise, spreading false rumours about science and scientists, etc.”
“People are often extremely reluctant to abandon ideas that they find appealing for one reason or another, or ideas they have been holding for a long period of time. Such ideas may have become part of their personality. (…) Information may even back-fire and consolidate the false beliefs instead of replacing them with scientifically well-founded information.”
Through the ALLEA Permanent Working Group Science and Ethics, as well as its recent publication “The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity”, ALLEA has reaffirmed its commitment to work on research integrity and ethics. To that end, we would like to highlight this year’s World Science Forum that takes place under the theme “Science, Ethics and Responsibility”.
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What role do European academies play in building bridges between the production of knowledge and its diffusion to society? How can they contribute to anchoring the values of the Enlightenment upon which scientific progress is based? ALLEA celebrated its 25th anniversary addressing those key questions through a two-day commemorative and scientific programme hosted by the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences in Bern on 8-9 May.
Representatives of ALLEA Member Academies after the business meeting of the 2019 ALLEA General Assembly hosted by the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences. Credit: Eric Schmid
The event was part of the ALLEA General Assembly, the annual meeting of European Academies that brings together representatives of more than 50 academies from over 40 countries in Europe. This year, the programme was opened at the University of Bern with a session commemorating a quarter of a century of ALLEA on 8 May.
In his speech, ALLEA President Antonio Loprieno recalled the beginnings of ALLEA by the end of the Cold War when academies across Europe joined forces to build a new platform for interaction on the European level.
“ALLEA emerged 25 years ago in the wake of profound political changes. Changes that were taking place in Europe after 1989 and after the era of partition between the East and the West. Science became more globally interconnected and international collaboration of European academies more visible and indeed necessary,” Loprieno recalled.
As part of the anniversary session, the European Commission’s Director-General for Research and Innovation Jean-Eric Paquet delivered a congratulatory speech which reflected on the past and future of European science and the role of European academies in shaping the conditions for science and in providing science advice for the European Commission via SAPEA.
“25 amazing and exciting years when Europe and science changed tremendously, but also when science and Europe were challenged deeply and ALLEA was both witness and key actor of this remarkable period”, he remarked in his speech.
Honouring Mariana Mazzucato, 2019 Madame de Staël Prize laureate
The celebration was dedicated to memory and remembering ALLEA’s 25 years, but also to honouring forward-looking and innovative science. After the anniversary session, the 2019 All European Academies Madame de Staël Prize was handed over by Swiss Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin to Mariana Mazzucato, Professor in Economics of Innovation and Public Value at the University College London (UCL), and Founder and Director of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP).
Bourguignon praised Mazzucato’s work on the relation between innovation and economic growth, as well as her focus on challenging common misconceptions on the functioning of markets and the role of the state in innovation. He also remarked that Mazzucato is considered as one of the “scariest economists” of today, as many have labelled her.
In her acceptance speech, Mazzucato expressed her gratitude and honour to be awarded a prize named after Madame de Staël, who “contested the status quo” of her time and challenged those who called themselves revolutionaries such as Napoleon.
In a similar spirit, she challenged in her speech those in the innovation, science and technology community who are defining sometimes uncritically what innovation means for the economy and society at large.
“What are markets? What are values? What is public value? We need to redefine how public and private come together and really question who is at the table”, she remarked.
“Is the market the same as the private sector? The market itself is an outcome of how public and private, and third sector, or civil society organisations, come together, but also how they are individually governed”, Mazzucato pointed out.
Science and Society in Present-day Europe
The discussions continued on 9 May in the scientific symposium ‘Science and Society in Present-day Europe’ dedicated to exploring the interaction between science and society from different angles and actors. Speakers remarked on the “enhanced role” of scientific actors in today’s digital society as Bourguignon highlighted in his keynote speech.
Madeleine Herren-Oesch, Director of the Institute for European Global Studies at the University of Basel, focused on the need to promote interdisciplinary knowledge and the role of social sciences and humanities in the building of new visions and narratives for the future of society.
The Global Young Academy analysed the potential for a (Re-)Enlightenment to bridge the gaps between society and science, and to address new challenges such as mistrust in science or digitalisation.
In the next session, Science et Cité introduced an interactive session on how big scientific breakthroughs such as the moon landing shape the public perception of science.
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Working with data in the humanities? Consider contributing to the ALLEA e-Humanities draft recommendations.
At the General Assembly on 8th May 2019, the ALLEA E-Humanities Working Group launched on open consultation on draft recommendations for humanities researchers working with data. The goal is to gather broad feedback from active humanities researchers and tailor the recommendations to community needs.
A link to the draft recommendations and instructions for contributing are available on the E-Humanities Working Group homepage, or can be accessed directly here: http://bit.ly/ALLEADH
The consultation is open to all researchers and practitioners working in disciplines within the humanities, policymakers and representatives of all public and private organisations working in the field. We are particularly keen to hear from humanities researchers in ALLEA academies.
The consultation is open until 15th July 2019.
On FAIR data
The drive to promote and support Open Science is a global phenomenon propelled by the belief that the scientific process, and the range of outputs from that process, usually supported by public funds, should be open and transparent. Open Access to publications is one aspect of this agenda. Another is that access should be made available to the data and other research outputs that emerge from research, as outlined by the FAIR principles and the research practices they enable. The context for FAIR data and research data management is rapidly evolving, and currently coalescing around FAIR data.
About the ALLEA e-Humanities Working Group
The E-Humanities working group, composed of experts from across European academies, is committed to identifying and raising awareness for priorities and concerns of the humanities, with particular attention to current and emerging developments in digital practice. Currently, the Open Science agenda figures highly in research policy and research funder requirements, and is driving changes in research practice. To address this agenda, and facilitate the adoption of Open Science across the humanities, the working group has turned its attention to supporting humanities researchers in their research data management practices.
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Mariana Mazzucato,Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at the University College London (UCL), honoured with the 2019 All European Academies Madame de Staël Prize for Cultural Values in Bern.
Economist Mariana Mazzucato was awarded the 2019 All European Academies Madame de Staël Prize for Cultural Values in Bern yesterday to honour her wide-ranging and stimulating work in the field of political economy and particularly her original contributions to understanding the role of the state in innovation. The Prize, endowed with €20,000, is supported by the foundation Compagnia di San Paolo.
Mazzucato is the sixth scholar to receive this prize, which was established in 2014 to commemorate a deep-rooted understanding of European culture as connected by an inherent diversity supported by a dynamic and vigorous intellectualism.
From left to right, Francesco Profumo (Compagnia di San Paolo), Antonio Loprieno (ALLEA), Mariana Mazzucato (University College London), Jean-Pierre Bourguignon (European Research Council), Guy Parlemin (Federal Councillor).
Antonio Loprieno, ALLEA President and chairman of the Prize jury, praised the distinctive career of Mazzucato. “Her scholarly work is characterised by both ingenuity and vision. With a thorough and incisive analysis, she has dug into the understanding of innovation, shedding light on the interplay between the state, business and research in our modern economy. Reminiscent of the critical mind shown by Madame de Staël, the jury honours Mazzucato as an outstanding scholar who is both helping to shape new narratives for Europe while strengthening our common values.”
The award ceremony took place on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of ALLEA, the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities, during a solemn session hosted by the Swiss Academies of Arts and Humanities at the University of Bern. Mazzucato received the prize from the hands of Swiss Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin. The ceremony was introduced by Francesco Profumo, President of the Compagnia di San Paolo, and Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, President of the European Research Council, who delivered the laudatory speech.
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The livestream will be accessible on 8 May from 18:00 to 20:00 and on 9 May from 10:30 to 17:30 through this link. You can check the full programme of activities for the ALLEA 25th Anniversary celebrations here, and the full list of speakers here.
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A new book series of the ‘Europa’ editorial delves into the legal, political, scientific, cultural and social dimensions of the European utopia and its future. ALLEA, jointly with its Member Academies, contributed to the discussion of the first three volumes in a conference that complements the series ‘Europe on Test’
The event was organised with the participation of ALLEA. International speakers from its Member Academies discussed the initiative in general, and each of the volumes respectively.
Honoured by the presence of the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella, Günter Stock (past ALLEA President) welcomed the participants on behalf of ALLEA. In his speech, he congratulated the editors to a very well-composed publication and to stirring a debate that could not be timelier and more important, not least given the events around the United Kingdom’s attempt to leave the European Union. Referring to the title of the first volume (’Un’utopia in costruzione’), he said:
“As such it [Europe] entails visionary ideas, very hard work, constant reflection and readjustment, as well as an enormous amount of exchange and debate by all of its constituencies – to form a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Utopia should lead to vision, visions should encourage strategic plans, and, most importantly, strategic plans must be complemented by concrete plans for implementation and action.”
‘Europa’ in three volumes
His welcome address was followed by the presentation of the three volumes. Each one was discussed by an Italian scholar, as well as an international discussant representing ALLEA. The first volume focuses on the political, institutional, legal and economic issues that affect the European Union and was discussed by Dame Helen Wallace (British Academy).
The third volume deals with socio-cultural aspects, as well as the major social changes that have made possible the unification of Europe and was discussed by Michael Rössner (Austrian Academy of Sciences).
A live video recording of the conference is available here.
The conference complements the ALLEA conference series ‘Europe on Test: Narratives of Union and Disunion‘, organised under the patronage of ALLEA and hosted by selected Academies of Sciences and Humanities in various European cities. Its aim is to address from a variety of disciplinary perspectives the different historical and contemporary socio-political developments that may pose a challenge for the future of Europe as a community.
The upcoming two conferences will take place in Warsaw (11 October) and Torino (7-8 November).
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ALLEA, EUA and Science Europe call to protect academic freedom and safeguard institutional autonomy by providing and honouring sound regulatory frameworks
ALLEA, the European University Association (EUA) and Science Europe issued a joint statement today on the urgent need to back commitments to academic freedom and university autonomy with solid actions. The three partners, representing a vast section of Europe’s research and higher education system, maintain that academic freedom and institutional autonomy are of fundamental importance and value to society.
“Our knowledge-based societies are dependent on scientific progress, but the fragility of the core principles of academic life, freedom and autonomy, are often disregarded. Only with them can science best serve society”, said Antonio Loprieno, President of ALLEA. “Recent developments in Europe with growing political pressure in certain countries have made us painfully aware of the need to protect these values at all costs. It is time for scientists, but also society at large, to stand up against unjustified infringements and to call for stronger safeguards.”
The statement calls on governments and public authorities to protect academic freedom and safeguard institutional autonomy by providing sound regulatory frameworks and refraining from interference in the internal affairs of higher education and research institutions. It also urges them to guarantee scholars and students the rights that constitute academic freedom, such as freedom of expression, opinion and thought.
Furthermore, the three organisations call on universities, funding agencies, academies and other research organisations to foster a culture in which free expression and the open exchange of opinion are valued and the academic freedom of researchers, teachers and students is safeguarded.
“Recent developments in Europe with growing political pressure in certain countries have made us painfully aware of the need to protect these values at all costs. It is time for scientists, but also society at large, to stand up against unjustified infringements and to call for stronger safeguards.”
Antonio Loprieno, ALLEA President
Universities and academies have recently been the target of increased political pressures. The European Parliament triggered a disciplinary procedure to determine if democratic values, including academic freedom, have been undermined in Hungary. In 2018, the government banned the teaching of gender studies and forced the Central Europe University to relocate most of its activities outside the country.
Following a lengthy dispute over budget matters with the Hungarian government, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, recently had to begrudgingly agree to a reform of its research institutes, which places the institutes under a new governing body made up of both academicians and scientists, but chaired by an appointee of the prime minister. In Turkey, the academic sector has come under increased pressure after the 2016 coup attempt, with thousands of public employees being dismissed from their jobs, including academics from ALLEA membership and higher education administrators.
ALLEA has intervened with a range of actions, including mediation, statements and open letters, in support of academic institutions under threat over recent years. The present statement, and the partnership with EUA and Science Europe, is a call to action and reflects the organisations’ shared concern that academic freedom and institutional autonomy are no longer self-evident in Europe and around the world, with grave consequences for scholars, science and society.
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