Interview With Prof. Günter Stock: “We must step out of our comfort zone and seek out dialogue with the general public”

Günter Stock, ALLEA President and 2017 Chairman of the SAPEA Board, reflects on the first year of SAPEA, the future of science advice in Europe and the need for better engagement with the public.


What was the main focus of your chairmanship of SAPEA?

GÜNTER STOCK: I have had the honour and challenge to chair the first year of operations of SAPEA, which to me meant to set the ship on the right course from the very beginning. Most important to me was that for all SAPEA activities the highest scientific standards are applied, and the brightest minds can work together knowing that their contributions will be heard and made use of. As such we put an emphasis on quality assurance and on developing universally applicable structures for the creation of our reports. At the same time it was important to me to start early with our public engagement formats and in the past year we put on several events on different topics across the continent with the help of our academies.


What are the main lessons learned from the first year of SAPEA?

G.S: One of the most important lessons was that in such a complex environment, at the interface of science, policy, and the public you will never stop learning new lessons. Few things are as obvious as they may seem and many of the projects we are involved in are the results of intense yet well-intended discussions. It is possible to disagree on a matter as long as your argument has the scientific merit to back it up. Yet, in the end, the products SAPEA puts out always manage to portray in detail the complexities of the given topic including different scientific views, and this is really what a discursive way of working should achieve


“Scientists must actively push to be providers of goal-directed and solution-oriented science advice, otherwise they might easily be overlooked”


How do you think scientists, researchers and academies can improve their role in the provision of science advice?

G.S:In my opinion the most important factor for scientists to make their voice heard is to show a willingness to put their research out there in a comprehensible manner for the layman and to make very clear what the implications of their research are and which effects it might have. We must step out of our comfort zone where fellow scientists discuss with us and actively seek out dialogue with the general public. If scientists can achieve that, their input will be considered necessary to be included in policy-making. In other words: scientists must actively push to be providers of goal-directed and solution-oriented science advice, otherwise they might easily be overlooked.


This interview was originally published in ALLEA Newsletter Issue #14: March 2018 | Loss of Trust in Science and Expertise?

Interview with Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve: “We see a great deal of mud thrown at most forms of expertise in the public discourse all the time”

Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve, past President of the British Academy and fellow of the Royal Society, and co-chair of the ALLEA Working Group Truth, Trust and Expertise, reflects on the contradictions of public opinion and actual behaviour vis-a-vis the alleged loss of trust in science and experts.


Do we witness a loss of trust in science and expertise today?

I personally have been working on trust and trustworthiness for about 15 years. It has become a much hotter topic because of the widespread perception that people are claiming not to trust experts and not to trust science. However, I am quite sure most members of the public don’t claim any such thing: people who have a tooth problem still want an expert dentist rather than a car mechanic when they want to have that problem fixed. People do not generally reject expertise of all sorts, but they tend to snipe at certain sorts of expertise.


What sorts of expertise do people tend to mistrust?
You hear some people say that they do not trust scientists and technology, but the same people certainly pay large amounts of money to have the latest tech devices. Some people claim not to trust doctors, yet as soon as they get sick, they want to be treated by the best specialists available. People also claim not to trust bankers, but they most likely have a bank account. There is a great difference between what people say and what people are actually doing. I do not think there is much evidence that people do not trust other individuals with appropriate expertise for different tasks, but they claim to mistrust, and they very often have a suspicious or hostile attitude to certain scientists and researchers. In addition, if we look at the polls, people claim not to trust all sorts of people, the least trustworthy being politicians, and the most trustworthy being nurses.


Why is there such a mismatch between people’s stated opinions and their actions?
Words are cheap. It is very easy to claim to mistrust certain forms of expertise, even if you actually rely on that form of expertise. Why has it become fashionable to claim not to trust experts? That, I think, is a fascinating question, and I suspect it is that we see a great deal of mud thrown at most forms of expertise in the public discourse all the time. We see a great deal of sensationalist media coverage of the ‘bad apples’, the questionable cases that sell well, and then we say: ‘Oh, well, you can’t trust them!’. People will often say, for example, that the schools nowadays cannot be trusted anymore, but at the next turn will say that their children’s specific school is a rather good school. There are these free-floating attitudes which often very much vary with the ways people act and how they lead their lives.


How important is an interdisciplinary approach when addressing questions on ‘how to do trustworthy science’?

I think an interdisciplinary approach to questions about the way we do science is absolutely essential. First of all, you cannot actually divide scientific research down and say we should handle physics this way, chemistry that way and social sciences in that other way. All disciplines are greatly interconnected, so we need a common framework. In fact, we already do have a common framework in place – although it might probably be the wrong framework – when it comes to modes of accountability and the forms of regulation that have been imposed on the research community during the last 20 or 30 years. My suspicion is that such a top down, one size fits all approach of regulation has rather led to a loss of trust rather than its reestablishment.


What questions should we start asking ourselves regarding such regulatory systems?

One of the questions that we need to ask is whether the regulatory systems and the forms of accountability that we have been establishing – at great cost – for the conduct of science, universities, university teaching, publishing, and so on, are indeed effective. They are certainly laborious, and they use up a great deal of research time, but laborious does not necessarily equate to effective. Some of the systems of accountability that we have put in place sometimes make it harder for scientists to do their primary tasks. These questions need to be reopened and addressed.


This interview took place at the British Academy in London on 19 February 2018 and was originally published in ALLEA Newsletter Issue #16: November 2018 | Focus on Academic Freedom

Interview with Richard Catlow: “My vision of a data-enabled Europe is that it improves the quality of life of its citizens”

Professor Richard Catlow, Royal Society Foreign Secretary and Vice-President, talked with ALLEA about the motivation behind the ALLEA-Royal Society conference “Flourishing in a data enabled Europe” held on 1-2 November 2018 at Chicheley Hall, United Kingdom. As Chair of the Organising Committee of this initiative, Prof Catlow shared with us his vision on what academies and scientists can do to  promote new uses of data for human benefit.


Tell us about the incentives of setting up this initiative.

In September 2017, I summarised the work of the Royal Society and British Academy on Data management use: Governance in the 21st Century at the General Assembly of ALLEA in Budapest. There was high interest in this topic, with many members from academies around Europe recognizing it was timely to consider the impact of data and digital technologies on society. So together with then ALLEA President Gunter Stock we decided to launch a joint Royal Society and ALLEA project to explore a vision for the use of data for human benefit in Europe. This is what led to the pan-European conference on Flourishing in a data-enabled society held on 1-2 November 2018 at Chicheley Hall, UK. The Royal Society is pleased to be hosting a conference that brings together leading thinkers on this topic from across Europe, which is one of our key roles in continuing to input into fora to shape the European scientific endeavour.

One of the main features of this conference is that it seeks to involve different sectors: from science to big tech all the way through to governments and public sector. What is expected from this cross-sectoral dialogue?

Currently, there are many debates on the use of data – but they are often unconnected, focusing on particular sectors or disciplines. Although governance solutions are often, and rightly, context specific, there is a need to connect debates across sectors to ensure that learning spreads across different sectors as quickly and effectively as possible. The conference also served to explore the diversity of approaches that can be found across Europe, and to draw where possible features that transcend borders which might inspire strategic decisions from various actors, from industry to governments.

How can academies best help shape the debate around the controversial topic of data use?

If we consider the memberships of ALLEA’s network of academies across Europe, there is a tremendous breadth of knowledge and expertise, across all sciences and humanities, that can help shed light on questions about the use of data and digital technologies. Academies can convene leading experts and have a critical role in gathering evidence and informing public debates. All stakeholders need to be engaged. For example, as part of the Royal Society’s work on machine learning, we commissioned a public dialogue which gave us a better understanding of what the UK public thinks about these technologies.

What is your vision of a data-enabled Europe?

Overall my vision of a data enabled Europe is that it improves the quality of life of its citizens, including a thriving research community across academia and industry. Technology should serve all of society and not just certain groups, and be trusted as it supports people and communities in their life, their work and their learning, while maintaining human autonomy. Ethical and responsible technology should meet as best as possible the needs of individuals and society. And we need governance and strategies that ensure a fair distribution of benefits and risks.

Learn more about the conference “Flourishing in a data-enabled society”.

“Research involves imagining the future and wrestling with the issues that it throws up”

The chair of the ALLEA Working Group Framework  Programme 9 and lead author of ALLEA’s position paper “Developing a Vision for Framework Programme 9”, Professor John Bell, reflects on the EU’s future research and innovation programme after Horizon 2020 and elaborates on ALLEA’s recommendations on the topic. Professor Bell (Fellow of the British Academy) is a comparative lawyer who specialises in French and German law, jurisprudence (especially legal reasoning), public law and European law. He is currently Professor of Law at the University of Cambridge and has previously worked at the Universities of Oxford and Leed

Which is the most important aspect that policy-makers should consider in the development of the next EU research and innovation programme?

JOHN BELL: Policy-makers should seek to look into the middle distance: what is Europe and the world going to be like by 2040 and how do we prepare ourselves to engage with the opportunities and problems which that future poses. Many of the calls for research under Horizon 2020 have been driven by rather immediate preoccupations for which the Commission was looking for answers. That is consultancy, not research. Research involves imagining the future and wrestling with the issues that it throws up.

ALLEA’s FP9 working group’s position paper points out that the next framework programme must incentivise “impact focused on European societies not just economic or industrial benefit”. Could you elaborate which types of “impact focused on European societies” FP9 should specifically address?

J.B.: Innovation can be understood simply in terms of new products that will create new jobs and increase wealth. That is only part of the picture. European societies want a quality of life that comes from a tolerant living together in solidarity with those who are disadvantaged throughout the world. Such conviviality is the result not only of economic growth, but of caring for the environment, designing our cities, ensuring healthcare and welfare for the vulnerable in society, and promoting social integration of citizens, migrants and visitors.

How could the Societal Challenges pillar in Framework Programme 9 be more prominently developed and how would the role of researchers have to be adapted accordingly?

J.B.: We need first to identify the challenges that lie ahead. Horizon 2020 has rather a top-down approach to identifying these challenges and is very prescriptive about their content. The process needs more imagination to come from researchers who can suggest different themes to be explored. We also need to bring together the insights of different disciplines into reflection on these issues. Natural and biological scientists will bring insights from replicable trials. Humanities will bring insights from imagination and history, thinking through issues in hypothetical futures. Social sciences can bring forms of modelling to help us anticipate problems that may occur. Working together they can give a holistic view of what the future might be like and how to engage with opportunities and problems.

What are the most relevant contributions and/or shortcomings of the recently published Lamy Report?

J.B.: Lamy provides an important vision of how to develop research beyond 2020. Lamy recognises the importance of research and the need for a substantial commitment of funding. It recognises the important contribution of humanities and social sciences research to a holistic approach to problems. Lamy also recognises that ‘innovation is more than technology’ and that the contribution to society, as well as to the economy is important. Lamy’s approach to missions for research is far less detailed and prescriptive than Horizon 2020. At the same time, the indicative topics it suggests on p. 16 is too much focused on medical and technological developments. The broad topic of how we live together would encourage a wider range of issues to be addressed. ALLEA will be working with colleagues in other organisations to produce suggestions in time for the Lamy Group to review the feedback it has received in early 2018.

This interview was published in ALLEA’s Newsletter #12 (August 2017).

“Creating a supportive climate for research integrity is the next big challenge for the academic system”

The lead author of the revised European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, Dr Maura Hiney, elaborates on the key aspects of the new edition. In addition to her involvement in ALLEA. Dr Maura Hiney was chair of the Science Europe Working Group on Research Integrity during its remit, and is Head of Post-Award and Evaluation at Health Research Board (HRB) in Ireland, which includes the development of policy for the organisation.


Why was the revision of the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity necessary? Could you give us a few examples of main new challenges covered in the revised version? 

MAURA HINEY: The previous European Code of Conduct was developed by ALLEA and the European Science Foundation back in 2010. It was a very important document at the time, but much has changed in the intervening years that rendered it somewhat outdated and indicated a revision. I see three main areas of change. Firstly, even in the space of seven years, there have been significant changes in the research environment in Europe. With a recognition of the importance of the ‘knowledge economy’ many countries have increased the level of public funding for research, but have married that with increased targeting and prioritisation of research areas. There has also been an increased demand for application-driven research and for partnering with the enterprise sector.

“Even in the space of seven years, there have been significant changes in the research environment in Europe.”

Secondly, there have been many technology-driven changes for research and for how researchers interact and communicate their findings, which are sometimes collectively termed ‘Open Science’. Examples include: new publishing models to allow open access to publications; open publication platforms such as F1000 that are far broader in the content they will accept for publication and use post-publication peer review; increased demand for dissemination of research data through repositories and other platforms; and the advent of new social media tools to disseminate research findings outside of the peer-review system.

Thirdly, there have been societally-driven changes, with a more science-literate and interested public who want greater access to, and understanding of, the evidence unpinning many facets of their lives such as health and environment; the emergence of crowd funding of research and citizen science projects; and a greater appetite among the public for transparency and accountability in research following high-profile misconduct cases in many pillar institutions (banks, the church, the police etc.).

Together all of these changes are both very exciting and very challenging for the research community in terms of ensuring continued Good Research Practice, and there was a need to update the European Code of Conduct to reflect this.

So what is new in the revised Code of Conduct?

M. H.: Much of the existing Code of Conduct was preserved in the revision process. However, there were some important changes made. Readers will instantly notice that the revised Code of Conduct is much shorter and more concise, which the drafting group felt was very important if it is to be widely read and used. The revised Code takes account of the changes in the research environment and those driven by technology and society that have emerged since 2010. The Principles have been refined to isolate the essential underpinning values of research, with more process-driven concepts moved to the appropriate section in the good research practices.

“The Code is written as a description of what IS done to ensure integrity in the research process, rather that what SHOULD be done, which can sometimes be interpreted as optional.”

The Code of Conduct includes a number of important innovations. The Code is written as a description of what IS done to ensure integrity in the research process, rather that what SHOULD be done, which can sometimes be interpreted as optional. Research Environment is placed first among the good research practices, to stress the vital role that research institutions and organisations play in establishing, nurturing and supporting a climate of research integrity. The section on Training, Supervision and Mentoring is greatly expanded to reflect a growing understanding of the pivotal role that these play in improving the skills of researchers at all levels of their career, not just in research integrity and ethics, but also in design, methodology and analysis. Likewise, a new section on Collaboration reflects the increasing cross-disciplinary, cross-sectoral and cross-border nature of research activity.

The chapter on Violations of Research Integrity includes some important unacceptable practices which were not captured in the original Code. These underscore: the importance of publishing all data and materials that can contribute to reproducibility and replicability (not withholding results); the importance of disseminating negative results, which is now possible with the advent of open publishing platforms; and the importance of allowing researchers the independence to do their work without interference from funders or sponsors who might wish to enhance (or suppress) particular findings.

The ALLEA drafting group involved a wide range of stakeholders in the revision process. Could you tell us a little more about the consultation and how it contributed to come to a final revised version of the Code?

M. H.: The stakeholder consultation was a vital component of the revision of the Code. We chose, for practical reasons, to consult with representative organisations and associations for researchers (both established and emerging), universities, funding agencies, publishers, the enterprise sector and policy-driven groups and in total 22 of these stakeholder organisations became involved in the consultation process.

“We could not have produced a relevant and comprehensive revision of the Code of Conduct without this generous and intensive input from the research community in all its forms.”

This provided us with a wide range of perspectives on what a Code of Conduct should cover, but also helped to ensure that the Code would be widely applicable across Europe and beyond. We invited written submissions on both the original Code and where the gaps lay, and on a draft of the revised Code – both of which were mapped carefully and incorporated where possible and appropriate. The Stakeholder Workshop held in November 2016 in Brussels, and made possible by the European Commission, was a fantastic opportunity for us to hear at first hand about the ideas and challenges faced by the different stakeholders with regards to the Code. It also provided and opportunity for diverse groups to exchange ideas and reach a better understanding of each others challenges. Overall, we could not have produced a relevant and comprehensive revision of the Code of Conduct without this generous and intensive input from the research community in all its forms.

The competitive nature of the academic career system is often considered to increasingly disincentivise research integrity. What would you suggest to overcome this challenge and how might the Code of Conduct help tackle this issue?

M. H.: Yes, there is certainly a significant body of evidence to support the impact of competition for career advancement and funding on the behaviour of researchers. Unfortunately, as in any resource constrained system competition will remain a feature of the academic world. That is why I think that improvements in the research environment are so important.

“Unfortunately, as in any resource constrained system competition will remain a feature of the academic world. That is why I think that improvements in the research environment are so important.”

There is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate that providing a supportive climate for research integrity, from strong organisational policies and practices, to encouraging open discourse among colleagues about the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis, coupled with adequate training and mentoring, can enhance research integrity and ethical behaviour. Creating such a climate is the next big challenge for the multitude of actors in the academic system from research organisations, to funders, publishers, governments and of course the research community itself.

The European Commission will implement the Code as the required standard of research integrity for projects funded by Horizon 2020. In your view, how could the Code be applied and implemented on the national level in order to best serve the research community across Europe?

M. H.: Most European countries either already have, or are in the process of developing, national policies, guidelines or codes of conduct. Many of these used the original ESF/ALLEA European Code of Conduct as their starting point. I do not believe that a truly harmonised policy and regulatory environment across Europe is a realistic goal.

“The revised European Code of Conduct can continue to provide a common framework from which national and local codes and policies can be developed or updated to reflect current challenges.”

However, the revised European Code of Conduct can continue to provide a common framework from which national and local codes and policies can be developed or updated to reflect current challenges. This will be important in ensuring consistency at a high level and promoting a common understanding of what constitutes good practice in research. That can only benefit the European research community and enhance public trust in their research outputs.


A shorter version of this interview was published in ALLEA Newsletter of May 2017

“Europe has forgotten to research Europe itself”

In a radio report released on 12 July 2014 by Radio Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB), ALLEA President Günter Stock was interviewed regarding the inclusion of the social sciences and humanities (SSH) in the Horizon 2020 funding programme. In addition to Professor Stock, the report included interviews with German state secretary Georg Schütte (Federal Ministry for Education and Research), Jutta Allmendinger (president of the Social Science Research Center Berlin), and Anette Schade, an expert from the European Union office at the Technical University of Berlin.

The radio report focused on identifying the three pillars of Horizon 2020 and the lack of explicit consideration of SSH in these three areas, which include excellence in science, industrial leadership, and societal challenges. Professor Stock described the efforts of the European science academies to convince policymakers to give SSH more consideration within the Horizon 2020 programme. “We went to Brussels and … said to the ministers that one cannot simply shape the future with technology alone,” stated Stock, who continued to emphasize the social challenges facing Europe and the importance of SSH for addressing these challenges.

While Allmendinger noted the lack of opportunities for Horizon 2020 scientists to sufficiently prepare long-term SSH studies, Stock advised these SSH researchers to take notes from those scientists in the fields of medicine and physics, for example, who over the years have developed strategies for competing for funds on the European level.

As a closing remark of the RBB report, Stock warned that Europe could be on its way to losing its own citizens due to a lack of understanding of the mechanisms that drive Europe as a collective entity. “Since Europe, in terms of research funding, has been very oriented towards creating jobs in the technology sector, it has somewhat forgotten to research Europe itself. And that leads many Europeans to ask themselves: what is the purpose of this ‘Europe?’ That is not a technological question,” explained Stock, who continued on to note the first positive chances for SSH to be better represented in Horizon 2020 research funding, although these efforts would need to be substantially fostered by the programme.

To hear the full radio report in German language, please click here.