Trust in Expertise at times of Covid-19

The EU-funded research project PERITIA just launched its first newsletter dedicated to Covid-19 and trust in expertise. The issue includes highlights from the first five months of the project with a selection of essays, news, interviews, blog posts, and podcasts from its team dealing with how the pandemic is affecting trust in expertise and science advice systems. A general introduction to the project’s research agenda emphasizes three key questions:

  • What is the role of expertise in democracies?
  • How should science inform political decisions?
  • How can we prevent a populist backlash against expertise?

If you are curious about how PERITIA’s team has engaged in public debates and research around these questions, we kindly invite you to take a look and let us know what you think. If you enjoy it, don’t forget to subscribe here.

The project is conducting a comprehensive multi-disciplinary investigation of trust in, and the trustworthiness of, policy-related expert opinion. Its research will develop a theoretical framework to understand the fundamentals of trust, which will be complemented empirically with surveys and in-lab experiments.

Science advice and public engagement

A central part of PERITIA’s work will consist of a comparison of existing science advice mechanisms in four European countries. PERITIA researchers will investigate how expert advice is elicited and which of the available models is more trust enhancing.

The project’s plans also reach beyond research. Investigators seeks to design effective indicators and tools to build trust in expertise informing policy. Their conclusions will be tested in a series of citizens’ forums where experts, policymakers, and citizens will engage in face-to-face discussions on climate change.

ALLEA is a partner in the PERITIA consortium, which is formed by eleven organisations from nine countries, and is leading its work on communications and public engagement. The project is a follow-up of the ALLEA working group Truth, Trust and Expertise.

Science rarely yields clear answers, the decisions need to be made democratically

Die Junge Akademie (the German Young Academy) is the first young academy being accepted as a member of ALLEA, the European Federation of Academies of Science and Humanities. With its headquarters in Berlin, the academy provides interdisciplinary and socially relevant spaces for outstanding young academics from German-speaking countries. Its chair Philipp Kanske talks with us about the emergence of young academies, the role of early-career researchers and the risks and opportunities for science during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Question: Over the past years, new young academies have been established across Europe and beyond. Die Junge Akademie pioneered this development with its foundation in the year 2000. You are now celebrating your 20th anniversary. First of all, congratulations! Could you tell us about the origins of Die Junge Akademie and how other academies followed your example?

Philipp Kanske: When Die Junge Akademie was founded, the idea was to enable young researchers to engage in the academic process autonomously and institutionally secured and participate in shaping its future – which is mainly their future. The enormous success of the first generations of our members was to develop such radiance that it inspired the foundation of De Jonge Akademie in The Netherlands in 2005 and about 40 more young academies have followed since.

The enormous success of the first generations of our members was to develop such radiance that it inspired the foundation of De Jonge Akademie in The Netherlands in 2005 and about 40 more young academies have followed since.

Q.: After two decades of work, the expectations of your organisation may have changed. How would you describe the role to be played by Die Junge Akademie and by early-career researchers in today´s scientific ecosystem?

P.K.: What started as an experiment with an originally limited life expectancy of five years has greatly matured. Die Junge Akademie has quickly begun to reach out and participate in the exchange with other science agents. Acknowledgment of our statements and positions may have helped in giving young researchers a voice and in changing their role in academia at large.

Q.: Two major goals of your academy overlap with ALLEA’s priorities: “encouraging academic, especially interdisciplinary, discourse among outstanding young academics” and “promoting initiatives at the intersection of academia and society”. Could provide examples of how Die Junge Akademie seeks to achieve these objectives?

P.K.: With its diverse membership, including artists, engineers and physicians, Die Junge Akademie exemplifies interdisciplinary exchange and actively promotes it in a plethora of projects ranging from COVID-19 to rebellious teaching. Most of our initiatives reach out to the society, for instance through the dialogue of art and science.

Q.: The COVID-19 pandemic has placed scientists at the heart of public and policy debates, while not so long ago scientists and expertise were being contested, especially in populist discourses. Could you mention one risk and one opportunity you think science have during this crisis?

P.K.: While it is a great chance for science to show its potential in the struggle for safe, fair and sustainable societies, I see the risk that the uncertainties of the scientific process are not perceived. Science rarely yields entirely clear answers and even though it can make decisions better informed, the decisions need to be made democratically.

While (the COVID-19 pandemic) is a great chance for science to show its potential in the struggle for safe, fair and sustainable societies, I see the risk that the uncertainties of the scientific process are not perceived.


Die Junge Akademie is the first academy of young academics worldwide. It offers prominent young scientists and artists from German speaking backgrounds interdisciplinary and socially relevant space for academic collaboration. Learn more about its activities and mission here

Philipp Kanske is Professor for Clinical Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience at Technische Universität Dresden and Research Associate at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig. He explores the emotional and cognitive processes that enable social behavior and their alterations in psychopathology. In his work he uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) to describe the underlying neuronal mechanisms. Learn more about his work here.

 

Picture’s copyright: Kerstin Flake

Covid-19 and our food: How is the current crisis affecting how we eat?

The Covid-19 pandemic has altered many aspects of our daily lives, including our trip to the supermarket, the access to food at times of uncertainty or how we eat when we spend more time at home. SAPEA just started a webinar series dedicated to “Sustainable food system” and the first webinar opened the discussion asking how Covid-19 has changed the way we eat. Experts debated the shifting consumers’ attitudes towards food as a public good instead of as a commodity, and confronted the conclusions of a recent SAPEA report with the challenges observed during this crisis.

 

 

Webinar series

Co-hosted by Europe’s academies and other partners, the webinar series will explore different aspects of Europe’s food system following the publication of SAPEA’s major evidence review report A sustainable food system for the European Union and the scientific opinion of the European Commission’s Chief Scientific Advisors. Future webinars in the series, planned for the autumn, will examine the EU’s new Farm2Fork strategy (co-hosted with the EU Food Policy Coalition) and the role of agroecology and technology in sustainability (co-hosted with a European academy). 

ALLEA is involved in SAPEA as one of the five academy networks in Europe. SAPEA is part of the European Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism.

For more information visit SAPEA website.

Check out the report here.

Why open science is here to stay

Openness is one of the defining characteristics of modern science and scholarship. The idea that there should be some secret esoteric knowledge reserved for initiates has long been banished from serious research and survives only in some non-academic fringe groups. Even research in industrial R&D facilities is now routinely published, if only in the form of patent applications. The one major and sad exception is of course some military and security research, and there are also a small number of cases where fully open science is not appropriate, for example, in environmental research to protect endangered species or in medical research to protect patient confidentiality.

The fundamental concept is noble and powerful. Ideas, theories, and their supporting intellectual frameworks should constitute a common good of all humanity, freely shared for our mutual enjoyment and benefit. This concept is anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, in article 27.1 that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” This framing of science as a cultural activity from which nobody is excluded and to which everyone can contribute, and from which everyone can benefit without in any way reducing the benefit available to others, defines it as what economists term a pure public good.

 

“Ideas, theories, and their supporting intellectual frameworks should constitute a common good of all humanity, freely shared for our mutual enjoyment and benefit.”

 

The reality however is different. Large parts of scholarly publication have been captured by commercial bodies whose primary interest is shareholder value and not the common good. The sharing of data is partial, inconsistent, and inadequately resourced. Science is too often confused with innovation and valued only for its immediate utility. Openness is paid lip service, but is often not properly rewarded in research evaluations, funding decisions and career progression. If we want open science to realise its full potential, there is an urgent need to reform processes and attitudes as well as to invest in sustainable infrastructures and organisations to support it. The necessity of such change has been dramatically brought home by the COVID-19 pandemic, where the traditional structures of science have been exposed as too slow and sclerotic to deal with a rapidly changing scientific and policy landscape.

 

“The necessity of such a change (towards open science) has been dramatically brought home by the COVID-19 pandemic, where the traditional structures of science have been exposed as too slow and sclerotic to deal with a rapidly changing scientific and policy landscape.”

 

At the same time, however, we have to recognise that many features of the traditional system are there for good reasons, and that moving to a more open and agile system is not without risk. Managing change in a complicated and interconnected system is challenging and raises many issues, some legal, some ethical, some practical as well as more philosophical ones concerning the purpose, nature and conduct of scholarship itself. It is vital that the academic community actively participates in discussing these issues using the full range of analytic tools developed in our various disciplines as well as our lived experience as researchers.

Europe is not unique in this regard, and science being universal, this discussion has to be cognisant of the global context. However, it is also the case that some issues have a special salience within the European context. For all these reasons, ALLEA feels that it is appropriate to establish a special task force on Open Science to address these challenges, to allow ALLEA to respond in a coherent and timely manner to developments, and to amplify the voice of the European academies within this global debate.

 

Luke Drury, Chair of the ALLEA Open Science Task Force and ALLEA Board Member.

 

Why should mitigation, adaptation and climate justice be at the heart of education?

ALLEA recently published a new report: “A snapshot of Climate Change Education Initiatives in Europe: Initial findings and implications for future Climate Change Education”. The document has been prepared by ALLEA’s Science Education Working Group and contains recommendations based on an on-line survey of existing initiatives complemented by educational research literature and the expertise of the scholars who conducted this work. We speak with Cliona Murphy, the chair of the working group who wrote the report. The preliminary findings were recently presented at the United Nations Climate Change conference COP25 in Madrid.

 

How did it come about that you started investigating existing climate change education initiatives across Europe?

Cliona Murphy: The climate crisis increases and demands urgent actions. At the same time, the Paris agreement from 2015 imposes obligations towards climate change education on the member states of the European Union. These two aspects sparked discussions amongst the Science Education Working Group about educational resources that are available in different European countries to support teaching and learning about climate change.

From our discussions it became apparent that while there appeared to be many climate change education resources and initiatives being throughout Europe, there wasn’t any available source detailing these initiatives; their overall aims, content, focus and pedagogical approaches etc. We believed that research that would collect information about the different initiatives would be useful in identifying high quality resources that could be disseminated throughout Europe.  We also thought that this work might identify gaps in the resources and initiatives and that these gaps could be addressed in the development of future climate change education resources. That’s how we decided to develop and carry out the survey.

 

The ALLEA report states that Climate Change Education should focus more on mitigation, adaptation, and climate justice. Could you explain why those three elements should have a more prominent place in education, and how this could be implemented?

C. M.: Yes. In the survey we found that a very high percentage of the initiatives focussed on the causes of climate change and the science behind climate change, which of course are essential in understanding climate change. However, we noticed that considerably lower percentages of the initiatives focussed on mitigation and adaptation, which are instrumental if we are to overcome the challenges posed by the climate crisis. Knowledge about climate change is of course essential, but not sufficient in addressing climate change challenges if it is not coupled with knowledge of how to mitigate and adapt to these challenges.

In terms of ‘climate justice’, it is really important that our young people understand that mitigation is not only crucial for future generations but is also essential for current disadvantaged populations on whom climate change is having the biggest impact. Thus we questioned, for example, in the context of mitigation in developed countries, to what extent young people are being supported in their understanding about the role society today has to play in acting not only on their own interests but in the interest of others.

Knowledge about climate change is of course essential, but not sufficient in addressing climate change challenges if it is not coupled with knowledge of how to mitigate and adapt to these challenges.

That being said, we need to be very careful when teaching our young people about climate change that we don’t make them anxious and create a feeling of helplessness.  It is important that climate change education resources and programmes adopt solution-oriented approaches that focus on collective actions as a means to decrease eco-anxiety while fostering a sense of agency amongst our young people.

 

What are the ALLEA Science Education Working Group’s plans for the future? Will this topic be further investigated or are you moving on to new subjects?

C. M.: The working group are very passionate about climate change education and very much see this scoping-survey as a first step in progressing climate change education throughout Europe. Our goal is to support effective teaching and learning about climate change that would result in our young people throughout Europe developing the requisite: content knowledge; scientific, critical thinking and problem-solving skills; and, attitudes towards mitigating climate change.

Our survey provides a snapshot, an initial insight, into some of the initiatives currently being rolled out in Europe. However, it’s only a first step.  A more representative large-scale survey of climate change education initiatives is warranted to obtain a more thorough account of these initiatives. As a next step, we would like to conduct a larger scale more representative European survey to identify commonalities, gaps, and best practices in climate change education. The findings from this larger-scale survey could ultimately lead to the development of a set of criteria or a framework that would inform the development of future initiatives.

Our goal is to support effective teaching and learning about climate change that would result in our young people throughout Europe developing the requisite: content knowledge; scientific, critical thinking and problem-solving skills; and, attitudes towards mitigating climate change.

Our survey revealed that while there appears to be a good range of education resources for teachers, in comparison there appears to be fewer professional development courses to support teachers in effectively teaching about climate change. As teachers have a vital role in climate change education, they need to be supported so they develop the confidence and competence to effectively teach about climate change. To this extent the working group would like to ensure that high-quality professional development programmes are developed and made widely available for teachers.

As a third step it would make sense to gather research that would assess; the quality of climate change education professional programmes; the extent to which teachers are implementing professional development methodologies in their classrooms; and, most importantly the impact on their students’ understanding of and attitudes towards climate change.

The working group is also interested in a number of other areas in science education, but is currently focusing on issues around Education for Sustainable Development, International Large-Scale Studies of Achievement, STEM / STEAM Education, and Nature of Science Pedagogy.

 

 

 

 

Diverging Narratives of Democracy in Europe

Peter J. Verovšek, Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Politics/International Relations at the University of Sheffield and British Academy Mid-Career Fellow, joined us in a conversation about the challenges facing Europe’s unity. In this interview, he sheds light on the factors preventing intellectuals from actively and effectively addressing these challenges.

 

“If you have a kind of conception of democracy based on a national popular sovereignty, then you do not necessarily see populism as a problem.”

 

What is dividing Europeans and what is holding them together?

I believe that the biggest thing uniting Europeans is the awareness that Europe is becoming an ever-smaller part of the world both economically and (geo-)politically. I think that many Europeans are aware of the fact that in order to keep punching above their economic and political weight, they must do it through Europe, in the form of the EU; in other words, they must work together. Unfortunately, I think what so often divides Europe is precisely a lack of agreement on what the EU should be doing in common. There is not so much disagreement on external policies like trade, but rather more on the enforcement of domestic norms, on how to protect democracy at home, and on how regional funds should be spent. The agreement holding Europeans together is by and large found within the international challenges with which the EU is confronted.

 

“Until we have a common conception of what it means to have democracy both at home and the European level, it will be difficult to reach agreement on what the EU’s role is.”

 

Which role do different narratives of democracy play in this respect?

I am convinced that different conceptions of democracy have developed in Western and Central Europe; populism, even the conceptualisation of it, is an obstacle in this regard. If your central point of reference is 1989, with the experience of Communism fresh in your mind and body, of being under the thumb of Moscow and with a feeling of not having control, then it is very easy to interpret populism not as a problem, but instead as an expression of popular sovereignty, of the desire of control on the part of the people of the national community that fought so much against the external control of the Soviet Union. They [the post-Communist states] did not fight so hard to get out from under the thumb of Moscow merely to once again cede power to Brussels. If you have a conception of democracy based on a national popular sovereignty, then you do not necessarily see populism as a problem. Whereas the Western perspective, which comes out of 1945 and is defined by the importance of individual rights like press freedom and rights to assembly rather than popular sovereignty, has been institutionalised at the European Union and various international organisations in the West. In that liberal perspective and conception of the rule of law and democracy, it is very clear that even the slightest thought of populism is problematic. Until we have a common conception of what it means to have democracy both at home and the European level, it will be very difficult to reach an agreement on what the EU’s role is in Europe and how the EU should relate to its own member states.

 

“We [academics] complain a lot about ‘fake news’ and the degradation of public discourse. I believe in many ways it is an obligation for those of us who … have the luxury and privilege of being able to think about these things for a living, to actually enter into the public sphere …”

 

What could and should the scientific community and academies do to deal with this challenge?

The academic community has an important role to play. We [academics] complain a lot about ‘fake news’ and the degradation of public discourse. I believe that in many ways it is an obligation for those of us who approach these issues academically – who have the luxury and privilege of being able to think about these things for a living – to actually enter into the public sphere and provide our own perspectives in order to ensure that these issues are heard and are debated in a productive manner. This would help to ensure that a deliberative debate is occurring and not just polarisation or mere shouting. Therefore, I think there is an important role for public intellectuals to play in this process. Unfortunately, a lot of the ways intellectuals are educated these days do not help with that. We are trained to be scholars, there is a lot of pressure for publication and a lot of institutional incentives that push against our entrance into the public sphere and against us taking the time to engage in things like deliberative polling in town halls, as well as to engage in public debates when we are under an incredible pressure to produce research ‘outputs’, to teach more and to confront more administration at the university level. Economic factors and obligations push intellectuals against getting engaged with the public sphere.

 

“Academies provide fora for academics to engage with the public, to do more deliberation about important public affairs and stimulate public discourse that is more about reaching an agreement than merely about fake news and polarisation.”

 

Perhaps European academies could play a bigger role here, by helping to raise the profile of that kind of public engagement for academics. Academies provide fora for intellectuals to engage with the public, to do more deliberation about important public affairs and stimulate public discourse that is more about reaching an agreement than merely about fake news and polarisation.

 

This interview was originally conducted at the conference ‘Europe on Test: The Onus of the Past – and the Necessities of the Future’, organised by the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) and ALLEA in October 2019.

How can we make Europe’s food system sustainable?

Food insecurity and sustainability are among the most significant global challenges facing humanity today. They are linked to a range of other challenges including malnutrition, biodiversity loss, climate change, soil degradation, and water quality.  

The new SAPEA report on Sustainable food system for European Union” addresses these questions and considers how a socially just and sustainable food system for the EU can be best defined and attained.  

The report was coordinated by ALLEA, the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities, and was written by a multidisciplinary group of 15 leading scientists nominated by academies across Europe. This report was requested by the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors to the European Commission and it informs their Scientific Opinion, which contains a set of recommendations for the European Commission. The two documents were published recently. 

We are talking with Peter Jackson, the chair of the SAPEA expert group who wrote the report. Peter Jackson is a Professor of Human Geography at the University of Sheffield in the UK and co-Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food. 

 

Transcript of the interview 

Good morning. Today we will discuss food sustainability and a new SAPEA report on that topic. We are talking with Peter Jackson, the Chair of the SAPEA expert group who wrote the report. Peter is a Professor of Human Geography at the University of Sheffield in the UK and the co-Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food. Peter, thank you for being here with us!  And the first question I wanted to ask you is that the report says that a shift to a sustainable food system in Europe is necessary. Could you tell us why?  

Yes, thank you. The current food system is widely acknowledged to be unsustainable, and that’s because of a number of reasons.  The food system is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for more than a third of total global greenhouse gas emissions.  It’s also a major contributor to soil depletion, to soil quality impoverishment, and a rage of other ecological consequences, including the loss of biodiversity.  

For all these reasons we think the food system is unsustainable. It’s also unsustainable in terms of food waste: as much of a third of the food we produce is lost to human consumption at various points along the supply chain. And lastly, in terms of food security, there’s been an alarming increase in the number of people needing access to emergency forms of food aid, such as food banks.  So across all those criteria, it’s fair to say that the current food system is unsustainable.  

And how can we make this shift towards sustainability happen? What does evidence say about it?   

Conventional approach to solving food system challenges is framed in terms of sustainable intensification.  And that means using agritech and other scientific interventions to grow more food using less land and fewer inputs.  Others disagree with that approach, and suggest we need to focus on agroecology, or organic farming, or to support a return to more local and seasonal food supplies.  We clearly also need a concerted approach to reduction of food loss and food waste, but others would also say we need to explore alternative forms of protein, or a move to more plant-based diets.  

So there are a whole range of solutions being advocated, and our report tries to weigh up the scientific evidence for one or more of those approaches.  Generally though, we support a system-wide and radical change to the current food system, exploring all those options.  

The SAPEA report that you worked on sets down key messages for policy-makers, which are then used by the Scientific Advisors to develop recommendations for the European Commission. But this time, we wanted to ask about your personal opinion as an expert: what would be the most important step towards a sustainable food system in Europe?   

It’s actually hard to separate more a personal opinion from the conclusions we came to in the report as a whole. But our main approach has been to suggest that no single actor, or single action, holds the key to transitioning to a more just and sustainable food system.  

We argue in the report that we need to combine so-called hard and soft measures. So the hard measures would include taxation and legislation, and the softer measures would include consumer education, health campaigns and behaviour change approaches. 

But we suggest that the evidence leads us to the conclusion that combination of hard and soft measures is likely to be more effective than single measures taken on their own.  

SAPEA is known for bringing together scientists from all disciplines and across Europe. What was it like to work in such group? Was there anything that surprised you in this way of working? 

It was actually a pleasure to work with members of the Working Group. We worked very well together and were able to combine a whole series of different disciplinary approaches, including psychology and sociology, geography, economics, and some natural science. 

So the lessons on the whole were very positive, in terms of collaboration across disciplinary boundaries. Where there were differences, they were mostly resolved through mutual understanding and cooperative learning.  So for example some would advocate quantitative others more qualitative approaches, or some might take a more individualistic, psychological approach, whereas others would think more sociologically about the need for addressing collective behaviour and a more social practice approach.  But on the whole we came to a consensus view, the report is signed by all of us collectively, and it was a good lesson I think in terms of the need for interdisciplinary approaches to food system challenges. 

And Advisors to the European Commission have explicitly asked for the social sciences perspective in this report.  Why is that? What makes this perspective so important in this project? 

The scoping paper to which we responded refers to a social science deficit in current approaches to the food system. And by that it argued that across the sciences in general there was good degree of agreement on what was needed, in terms of dietary change for example, or in terms of more sustainable agricultural production. 

But what was lacking was a sense of what works in terms of different policies, and that’s where social science perhaps can contribute most.  So through the systematic review process that underpinned our report, we were able to identify scientific work which had evaluated the effectiveness of different kinds of policies.  And that then provides an evidence-based approach to what works. 

We also used the systematic review process to identify a series of case-studiesof best practice, of things that might work at the local scale or within a single nation, but which might be scaled-up, or rolled out across Europe more generally. 

Well thank you very much! 

Thank you! 

Dealing with a populist backlash against experts

Maria Baghramian, Professor of American Philosophy at the University College Dublin, is Project Leader and Coordinator of PERITIA (Policy, Expertise and Trust in Action), an EU-funded research programme exploring the conditions under which people trust expertise used for shaping public policy. In this interview, she presents the rationale behind the project and argues for a re-examination of the role of experts in democratic governance.

As a principal investigator of the Irish project “When Experts Disagree” and as a core member of the ALLEA Working Group Truth, Trust and Expertise (TTE) you have already investigated questions regarding trust in science and expertise quite extensively. What are the main unanswered questions from these experiences which motivated you to initiate PERITIA?

Maria Baghramian: The research project ‘When Experts Disagree’ (WEXD, 2015-2017), funded by the Irish Research Council’s New Horizons scheme, was an attempt to come to terms with the complexities of peer expert disagreement.

However, with the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election, both happening within a few months of the launch of WEXD, the nature as well as the socio-political importance of the questions we were asking began to change. The question confronting us all, and not just our research project, is not how to deal with difficult cases of peer expert disagreements but, more crucially, how to deal with a populist backlash against experts who have become identified with elitism and intellectual arrogance.

The ALLEA Working Group Truth, Trust and Expertise, which began its work in 2017 under philosopher Onora O’Neill’s guidance, produced three working papers on questions of trust in science and the impact of the new media and modes of communication on trust. But the group had a strong sense that it was only scratching the surface of some difficult and urgent questions and that a great deal of work was still to be done.

 

“The question confronting us all is how to deal with a populist backlash against experts who have become identified with elitism and intellectual arrogance”

 

How will you and your colleagues in PERITIA answer these questions?

M.B.: PERITIA specifically seeks to understand and illuminate the conditions for the establishment and recognition of trustworthy expertise in the context of a changing socio-political landscape. The project develops the theoretical work of the ALLEA TTE working group but goes further by adding an empirical as well as an ameliorative element to its theoretical concerns. It is a fully multidisciplinary study of epistemic trust in expert opinion in the context of policy formation, and relies on the expertise of philosophers, sociologists, cognitive psychologists, economists, physicists, climate scientists, ethicists, and public policy experts.

 

PEriTiA will be conducted in three main phases. What are these phases and how will they reach out to and benefit the target groups?

M.B.: The first phase of the project, as I mentioned, will build on the theoretical work of the two previous projects and its findings should be useful to all those interested in achieving a deeper understanding of the philosophical, social, and psychological underpinnings of public trust and trustworthiness. The second phase will be an empirical test on the theoretical findings of the project. This stage will be developed through surveys conducted across seven countries participating in the project as well as data collected through experiments conducted in economics labs in Dublin and Milan. The data from this phase will shed light on both the trends and the specific individual factors contributing to relations of trust and mistrust in experts. Finally, in Phase 3, the citizens’ fora hosted in five countries will provide an opportunity for direct engagements between the public, climate scientists, policy-makers on environmental matters.  The data we collect in this phase should help us gain a better qualitative understanding of public trust, but it should also be of use to those directly involved in policy-making. (Learn more about PERITIA’s Research Design)

 

“PEriTiA specifically seeks to understand and illuminate the conditions for the establishment and recognition of trustworthy expertise in the context of a changing socio-political landscape.”

 

In the third phase, climate change and climate science will be used as a test case for the project. Why have you chosen them and how are you going to assess trustworthiness and its role for political decision-making regarding climate governance?

M.B.: Climate change is undoubtedly the most pressing issue facing humankind. We believe that our multi-disciplinary and three-tiered approach to the trust in the science of climate change can make a positive contribution to the ongoing discussions about the topic. A great deal of research has already been carried out on the question of the interface between climate science and policy-makers but much of its focus has been on the highly vocal climate denialists in the US. Various attitude surveys in Europe, on the other hand, indicate that in Western European countries, over 90% of the population believe that the world’s climate is changing, and this is, at least partly, due to human activity.

But the question of public trust in climate science when it comes to climate policies is not settled. There is a disparity between expressions of trust in scientists’ views on the causes of climate change and an apparent lack of support for the policies that might help to reduce and counter the change. The apparent tension, if not the outright contradiction, between the avowed agreement with experts regarding the cause of climate change and the reluctance to act on the warnings about its potentially catastrophic consequences for humanity shows that the issue of trust in experts cannot be reduced to a positive or negative response to a questionnaire about trust in science. The issue is more complex.

Our study aims to investigate this complicated and complicating feature of trust in science. So, our focus is not going to be on the question of trust or distrust in the science of climate change only, but also on the more crucial question of trust in the intersection of climate science and the policy decisions based on expert advice. However, I should add that the project is using climate science as its test case, but the aims of the project are broader, and we hope that our conclusions will have more general applicability.

 

“Our focus is not going to be on the question of trust or distrust in the science of climate change only, but also on the more crucial question of trust in the intersection of climate science and the policy decisions based on expert advice.”

 

Many would argue that we are living in a ‘post-truth’ world, where scepticism towards expert opinion and political institutions is rising. However, problems like ‘fake news’ and propaganda have long been an integral part of social history. How are today’s challenges facing trust in institutions, particularly science and scientific expertise, different to those in the past? How are digital transformations changing the nature of belief, public opinion and political communication?

M.B.: The rhetoric of populism is one of the common denominators binding various dimensions of what rightly has been described as a crisis of democracy. The expression of scepticism about experts and their opinions is a feature of populist politics but is not backed by surveys regarding levels of trust in science. The latest IPSOS survey of levels of trust in various professions shows that scientists (at 60%) are the most trusted group of professionals, followed closely by medical doctors (56%), and teachers (52%). Only 11% of those surveyed find scientists untrustworthy. Similar results have been shown by other surveys.

So, it is interesting to ask why there is such a widespread perception that there is a lack of trust in science. One reason is that lack of trust in some specific areas of scientific advice like vaccination is a case in point. Since 2010, the uptake of measles-containing vaccines such as MMR has decreased in 12 EU member states: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. There is little doubt that the echo chambers produced by social media, in particular, the algorithms used by Facebook, have had an immense impact on spreading the false data about linkages between vaccines and various illnesses. This is where we clearly see the impact of digital media on the old phenomenon of disinformation and propaganda for political and monetary gains.

These ‘localised’ breakdowns of trust are also taken as indicators of a general crisis of trust, in part because of the very public expressions of scepticism about science and expertise by populist political figures and their followers and thus the narrative of the untrustworthiness of the experts is perpetuated and generalised. One of the main focuses of our project is on the role of social media on building or diminishing the reputation of opinion makers in science and in policy decisions. We will be holding a workshop and a conference on these topics and we hope that the publication of their findings will help to address this pressing issue.

 

“One of the main focuses of our project is on the role of social media on building or diminishing the reputation of opinion makers in science and in policy decisions.”

Critical thinking and media literacy programmes have long fostered a critical approach towards sources, particularly those found on the internet and media. Philosophers too have had a role in provoking scepticism even towards the most basic notions of truth. Did this create unintended consequences regarding the development of distrust towards experts and professionals in parts of society? Do you think there is any way to circumvent this problem and (re)build ‘justified’ trust, while simultaneously maintaining a healthy distance from accepting information at face value?
M.B.: I think scepticism, at least the type that philosophers advocate, helps rather than hinders the search for truth by fostering anti-dogmatism and open mindedness.  The so-called era of post-truth, in my view, should not be equated with scepticism or critical thinking but with what the philosopher Harry Frankfurt has called ‘bullshitting’. There are important differences between lies, other falsehoods, and bullshits. Liars try to misrepresent facts and to negate or distort what they think is true; they are attempting to distort what they believe to be true. Bullshiters, on the other hand, are simply unconcerned about the truth. Bullshitters, as Frankfurt puts it are  “indifferent to how things are”, they are not just attempting to distort the truth but to undermine the very distinction between truth and falsehood. So, as Frankfurt rightly points out, they present a far greater threat to truth than mere lies.

A further element of what is called ‘post-truth’ is the conflation of belief with feelings and freedom of opinion with the freedom of choosing to believe whatever may seem most palatable irrespective of any justifying or contrary evidence. Again, these are not epistemic attitudes that can be identified with philosophical scepticism, in fact they are its very anti-thesis. The sceptic, at its most extreme, claims that we cannot know anything. The ‘post-truth’ attitude claims that anything that seems right to us, or is to our liking, is true. They mistake truth with strength of conviction and feelings of certainty.

As to remedies, in the long run, unless we bring about our own self-destruction, truth will win because the world resists the imposition of false narratives on it. False theories do not work and sooner or later we are going to find out that they do not. Refusing vaccination in large numbers kills, believing that climate change is a Chinese hoax will not stop the impact of global warming on our habitats. The famous quip by the great American philosopher Willard van Orman Quine that “creatures inveterately wrong in their inductions have a pathetic but praiseworthy tendency to die before reproducing their kind” doubly applies to the case of truth. The challenge facing us is to make sure that we do not hasten our demise by ignoring the hard facts of a world that will survive long after we are gone. Establishing direct two-way dialogues between scientific experts and the general public is one of the key aims of PERITIA, which I think can help in countering this danger.

 

“It is not so much trust in experts that is at issue but trust at the nexus of experts and policymaking that creates serious concern about the role of experts in democratic governance.”

 

A project exploring “how emotions and values influence the process of placing or refusing trust in expertise that shapes public policies” might be perceived as attempting to (re)establish a kind of authority in experts and professionals which recent ‘populist’ movements have termed ‘elitist’. PEriTiA’s mission explicitly states that public trust in expertise has a clear role in democracy, which is supposedly threatened by populist politics. Alluding to Plato, placing trust in experts can easily be perceived as technocratic and anti-democratic. How will PEriTiA avoid or deal with retracing a perceived border between ‘experts’ and the ‘general public’ without feeding the anti-elitist narrative?

M.B.: There is something very basic and inescapable in our reliance on experts. Division of cognitive labour, which comes with the division of other types of labour, is essential to the functioning of complex societies. A distinction between experts or specialists and novices is an inevitable consequence of this division. The idea that we can have an ‘equality’ of knowledge but also a complex social order does not make sense. The headlines about the breakdown of trust in experts distort the plain fact that we rely on experts on daily basis – we take our cars to the mechanics, our children to the dentist and our computers to the IT people.

It is not so much trust in experts that is at issue but trust at the nexus of experts and policymaking that creates serious concern about the role of experts in democratic governance, so much so that the sociologist of science, Steven Fuller claims that widespread dependence on experts is “the biggest single problem facing the future of democracy”. The concern, as you suggest, goes back to Plato but has resurfaced in the work of quite diverse philosophers in the 20thcentury – the American Pragmatist John Dewey, the German critical theorist Hannah Arendt and the French postmodernist Michel Foucault are some examples. The main concern common to these critics is that the role of and potential rule by experts fundamentally lacks an ethical grounding and has no genuine interest in the common good.

The emphasis that PERITIA places on the unavoidable affective and normative dimensions of trust goes some way towards addressing this concern. In my own work, and contribution to the project, I explore the ways in which science is value-laden and how the acceptance of this fact will allow us to step out of the dichotomy of thinking in terms of objective scientific facts vs the subjective, or at best intersubjective world of values. The approach, championed among others by feminist epistemologists, allows us to think about the role of values in making scientific decisions, for example in deciding about the costs and benefits of taking an inductive leap in theory construction and theory acceptance. Some of the publications of PERITIA over the next three years will deal with this question.

“In my own work, and contribution to the project, I explore the ways in which science is value-laden and how the acceptance of this fact will allow us to step out of the dichotomy of thinking in terms of objective scientific facts vs the subjective, or at best intersubjective world of values.”

This article was originally published on PERITIA’s website here.

To learn more about PERITIA, check out its research design, advisory board, project leaders, team, partners and upcoming publications. You are invited to join us on Twitter and Facebook, and to subscribe to our Newsletter

 

Credit Pictures: Shutterstock

A great deal of mud is being thrown at most forms of expertise

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

Disrupting the Scientific Publishing System? Plan S and the Future of Open Access

The open access initiative Plan S has rekindled the debate on the future of open access and pushed the European research community to renew its commitment to a transition towards a fully open science system. ALLEA joined the discussion with the expertise of its working groups and elaborated an initial response to shift the focus of the initiative for the benefit of science and society. The debate is far from close and many ethical, legal and disciplinary considerations are still on the table. We asked ALLEA working groups’ chairs about some of the most relevant aspects of the future of open access.

We need to look at more than sticks and carrots – an analysis of conditions and infrastructures promoting high quality research is essential.

 

Göran Hermerén, Chair of the ALLEA Permanent Working Group Science and Ethics

Question: The past year has seen some great strides in the advancement of open access. Your working group has contributed both to addressing ethical considerations in general as well as those within Plan S. Do you think that we are now on the right path to achieving a good, ethically fair system of open access?

Göran Hermerén: Yes, on the whole. But more work on the implementation of open access remains to be done – including comprehensive dialogue with different stakeholders. This will take some time, but it is important, since the challenges, needs and publication habits vary among various disciplines. Care must be taken that countries and research institutions with less economic resources are not disfavoured. The role of the funding agencies is crucial, since they can impose conditions for their financial support of research projects.

Q.: ALLEA’s response to Plan S stressed the need for a corresponding reform of the research evaluation system. Where do you stand on this issue and what do you think is important to consider in any such reform?

G.H.: At our next meeting we will plan an activity focusing precisely on this. In the evaluation of research performance it is important to consider not only commonly used metrics that are thought to drive poor behaviour, such as journal impact factor, citation rates or even just numbers of publications, but take a broader view of approaches and incentives that could be used to promote research integrity and good scientific practice. Some metrics are required but these will need to be supplemented by other considerations such as the quality of the research (idea or output) and its potential to have beneficial societal or economic impacts in the longer term. The San Francisco DORA declaration is an important document in this debate. This also means we need to look at more than sticks and carrots –an analysis of conditions and infrastructures promoting high quality research is essential.

In the answers to both questions it will be important to keep an eye on unintended consequences of well-meaning proposals, and realise that what may work or even work well in one country or discipline might not work (or work well) in others.

 

Natalie Harrower, Chair of the ALLEA Working Group E Humanities

Question: While Plan S is putting a focus on open access to scientific publications your working group’s activities also include the broader context of open science and open data. What principles do you recommend should be followed here and how could they best be implemented?

Natalie Harrower: The movement towards greater openness, transparency, and widespread access to scientific research and the multiple products of that research has been grouped under the broader concept or movement known as ‘open science’. In terms of research transparency, integrity, acceleration and the democratisation of access to knowledge, open science as a movement is nothing less than revolutionary, and it should be broadly welcomed and supported at all levels.

Alongside the movement towards open access to scientific publications is the movement towards opening access to the research data that enables the findings detailed in these publications. Researchers should now turn their attention to following the FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reproducible) in data management, and seek guidance on how to create a data management plan (DMP) as early as possible in the research process (i.e. when preparing grant applications, or before undertaking a new programme of research). Researchers, and research support staff, should make themselves aware of any national policies on open science/open research/open scholarship, and can turn to funding agencies, research offices, academic libraries, or European sources for specific guidance. Umbrella organisations working to support and enable better research data sharing include the Research Data Alliance, CODATA, and Science Europe.

 

Researchers should now turn their attention to following the FAIR principles in data managament, and seek guidance on how to create a data management plan as early as possible in the research process.

Joseph Straus, Chair of the ALLEA Permanent Working Group Intellectual Property Rights

Question: Open access may generate conflicts with some aspects of the patenting system. One of the recommendations of the ALLEA Permanent Working Group Intellectual Property Rights refers to the need to adopt a grace period in Europe. Why is such a measure necessary and how should Plan S take into account this demand?

Joseph Straus: It may first be recalled that under the European Patent Convention and the patent laws of the EU Member States novelty destroying state of the art is everything which has been made available to the public in any way prior to the filing of the patent application. In other words, also own publications of the inventor him/herself constitute such a prior art.
In a number of countries, such as Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the United States, to name but a few, the institute of a so-called grace period exists, which enables the inventor, or his/her successor in title, to apply for a patent within a certain period of time (six or twelve months) from the publication date and enjoy immunity against their own publications.
Although all inventors and their research institutions have to be careful in allowing publication of research results prior to the filing of a patent application, inventors, especially from academic institutions, publish their research results without an adequate control as regards their patentability and potential commercial exploitation, and thus deprive themselves and their employers, eventually also the tax payers in case of publicly funded institutions, of any property rights in such research results.

 

Since the Plan S puts pressure on early publication of research results, the lack of grace period in the European patent law (s) will obviously aggravate the situation of European scientists/researchers and put them at even greater disadvantage as compared with their colleagues overseas.

ALLEA has since the 1990s repeatedly, but in vain, advocated in favour of an introduction of a grace period in the European Patent Convention and the patent laws of the EU Member States. For that purpose representatives of ALLEA met even the responsible EU Commissioner, and on different occasions also other representatives. It should be emphasised that because of intricacies of patent law, often, even a timely filed patent application does not adequately protect the inventor and his/her research institutions as regards the follow-on research.
In any case, a prudent handling of publication activities results, on the one hand in some delay of publication and still does not offer the necessary legal certainty. Since Plan S evidently puts pressure on early publication of research results and on open access to them, the lack of a grace period in the European patent law(s) will obviously aggravate the situation of European scientists/researchers and put them at an even greater disadvantage as compared with their colleagues overseas.

 

This interview was originally conducted for and published in ALLEA’s Annual Report 2018/2019