“We Need Professional Scientific Journalism Back”

In the age of social media, scientific mis- and disinformation spreads far and fast – with deadly consequences. During the early days and peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, the torrents of false and misleading information led to highly risky behaviours, impacted mitigation efforts, vaccine uptake, and even resulted in (preventable) deaths. Besides the pandemic, science disinformation is also particularly rampant and harmful when it comes to the climate crisis, which presents an existential threat to the world. Therefore, fighting science mis- and disinformation with evidence-based tools and resources is of paramount importance, not just for the scientific community, but for policymakers, the media, and the public.  

Dr Carlo Martini, who leads PERITIA’s work on Behavioural Tools for Building Trust, speaks to ALLEA Digital Salon on how scientific disinformation is becoming more sophisticated and harder to detect, and the resulting need for equally vigorous counter-measures by professional science journalists.

 

“Scientific disinformation is different, because it is often rather complex to debunk, and it tends to stand on pseudo-evidence, that is, something that looks like scientific evidence but is not obtained through rigorous scientific methodology.”

 

Question: In a recent interview you emphasise that expertise is the substantial possession of two traits: experience and competence. Could you elaborate on the importance of these two in the make-up of an expert?

Carlo Martini: I view experience and competence as the backward-looking and forward-looking components of expertise. What that means is that experts need experience, typically in a very narrow field of human knowledge, to gain the capacity and proficiency to deal with new problems and tasks, which is usually called competence. Experience alone, however, is not always enough to acquire competence, and sometimes competence can be acquired through other means (for example, instruction manuals). The relationship between experience and competence is thus a complex one. For example, lots of experience will yield little competence if said experience is acquired by mere repetition of the same task.

 

Q: The ease of access to communication technology makes it easier for pseudo-science to spread to ever-larger audiences. What tools or resources do laypeople have to recognise the “bogus” experts and their pseudo-scientific claims?

CM: Without a filter at the source, laypeople can only rely on critical thinking to vet the information they receive. Scholars disagree on how “gullible” people are, but unfortunately, it is a fact that there are many bogus “professional” experts, often very well-funded, who are very keen on and skilled at constructing and spreading disinformation. This type of professional-looking disinformation is rather hard to spot without specific skills that are acquired through the study and application of critical thinking and digital literacy.

 

Q: What about legitimate disagreements between experts? How can laypeople make important decisions on topics where experts who are on equal epistemic standing express conflicting views or recommendations?

CM: Legitimate disagreement among experts is a thorny issue for laypeople’s decision-making. First, though, the fact that there is a genuine disagreement should be established. Unfortunately, much of what appears to be “disagreement among experts” is bogus. Once we have done that, however, and we are still faced with disagreeing parties, a few options remain. Sometimes the disagreement may mask different assumptions about, for instance, risk attitudes and values.

For instance, there was a lot of bogus disagreement during the COVID pandemic; but some disagreements were legitimate, and it was sometimes the result of different stances about how much value to assign to human life, as opposed to, for example, economic and psychological suffering deriving from restrictions. If nonetheless, experts’ views about ethics and risks are aligned but they still disagree, it probably makes sense to sit on the fence, as it were, and wait until new evidence is available.  Unfortunately, there are situations when sitting on the fence is not an option.

 

“Experts may not realise that their incompatible conclusions may each be supported by good evidence if they start from different stances about the evaluation of some basic moral facts.”

 

Q: The work of the EU-funded research project PERITIA, in which you are one of the lead researchers, deals with the topic of disinformation. What is the difference between scientific misinformation and disinformation, and why is it important to make this distinction?

CM: We can be disinformed about many diverse topics, from politics to pop culture. Let us imagine we hear that an actor we particularly love has broken up with their partner. Is it true? Is it false? A tabloid or a social media account may spread disinformation to gather readership or clicks. But often this kind of disinformation is a lie with no legs to stand on, like the infamous “Pizzagate” affair during the 2016 US presidential election. Scientific disinformation is different;  it is often rather complex to debunk, and it tends to stand on pseudo-evidence, that is, something that looks like scientific evidence but is not obtained through rigorous scientific methodology. One shouldn’t generalise but it is safe to say that most scientific disinformation is supported by pseudoscience.

 

Q: Your research focus within PERITIA deals with the emotional and cognitive components of trusting behaviour. What are the key facts that your research has found on this front?

CM: One of the foci of our research is the idea that often people do not trust information based on the contents of what they read or hear, but rather, they tend to trust familiar sources, irrespective of the objective quality of their contents.

For example, in one of our studies, we tried to improve people’s ability to spot disinformation by giving them critical thinking prompts. In the first round of experiments, we ran into the problem that familiarity of sources was masking the effect of our intervention because people tended to judge as accurate those sources that they perceive as trustworthy and familiar. In order to try to detect the effect of our prompts, we had to refine our search and we ran a second round of experiments using only unfamiliar sources, to test whether our prompts were helping people become more accurate in their search for reliable information.

 

“We need professional scientific journalism back, and the competition coming from scientific disinformation and click-bait style journalism is unfortunately not helping.”

 

Q: Part of your work also focuses on the role of expertise in knowledge transfer from science to policy. How has the role of experts in policy advice changed in recent years? What do you see as positive developments, and what must still be improved?

CM: I think it’s fair to say that in recent years we have witnessed opposing trends. On the one hand, crises like Brexit have been fuelled by and, in turn, magnified a wave of negative feelings towards expert advice and evidence-based policy-making. Experts have been accused of protecting a worldview, rather than holding superior knowledge. On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic was an eye-opener on how much science (and experts) can accomplish when they coordinate with each other and with policymakers. Some experts even attained celebrity status during the pandemic.

My research team and I ran in-depth interviews with several major COVID-19 experts who were prominent public communicators during the first wave of the pandemic and one of the key takeaway points they tended to agree on was that communication should be improved. We need professional scientific journalism back, and the competition coming from scientific disinformation and click-bait style journalism is unfortunately not helping.

 

About Carlo Martini

Dr Carlo Martini is Associate Professor of Philosophy of Science in the Faculty of Philosophy at Vita-Salute San Raffaele University (UNISR). His primary research interests are in philosophy of the social sciences and social epistemology. He works on the role of expertise in knowledge transfer from science to policy, on expert disagreement and on public trust in scientific experts. He is a visiting fellow at the Centre for Philosophy of Social Science, University of Helsinki. Before taking up his post at UNISR (Milan) he was a senior researcher at the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, after completing his Ph.D. at the Tilburg Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science in 2011.

Dr Martini also leads PERITIA’s work package on Behavioural Tools for Building Trust. PERITIA is an EU-funded research project investigating public trust in expertise. ALLEA is one of the partners of the consortium, which is composed by 11 organisations from across Europe.

More by Carlo Martini

Knowledge Brokers in Crisis: Public Communication of Science During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Climate Change and Culpable Ignorance: The Case of Pseudoscience

Lateral reading and monetary incentives to spot disinformation about science

“Questions, Not Answers, Are Better Suited to Start a Reflection on Ethical Issues”

Technology has immense power to shape our world in a variety of spheres, from communication to education, work, health, transportation, climate, politics, and security. New and innovative technologies with such gross potential for wide socio-cultural and economic impact (often referred to as “emerging technologies”) are thus often fraught with ethical questions – which range from concerns about privacy breaches to manipulation, fairness, and the exacerbation of power gaps and exploitation. Because they could affect every aspect of our lives, it is important to acknowledge and address these ethical questions right at the outset – as early in the process of technological design and implementation.

In this relatively nascent field of emerging technologies and ethics, TechEthos (Ethics for Technologies with High Socio-Economic Impact), a Horizon 2020-funded project, published a report on the ethical issues that need to be considered for three technology families: Digital eXtended Reality, including the techniques of visually eXtended Reality (XR) and the techniques of Natural Language Processing (NLP), neurotechnologies, and climate engineering, including Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and Solar Radiation Management (SRM).

Dr Laurynas Adomaitis, Tech Ethicist, CEA

In this Digital Salon interview, we speak with the lead author of the report, Dr Laurynas Adomaitis, Tech Ethics Researcher at Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique et aux Énergies Alternatives (CEA), on the ethical dilemmas inherent to emerging technologies, how researchers can effectively use the tools in the report, and the role for policymakers and funding organisations in promoting the integration of ethics into every stage of technology research.

 

Question: Are the core ethical dilemmas in emerging technologies fundamentally similar to ethical considerations inherent to all research? How are they different?

Laurynas Adomaitis: Emerging technologies are often based in research, so there definitely is overlap between the core dilemmas we discuss in research ethics. For example, while looking at climate engineering, we discovered that one point of contention was whether research into Solar Radiation Management (reflecting/refracting solar energy back into space) is ethically justified. One of the arguments against it is that researching such techniques presents the world with a “plan B”, which may distract from climate change mitigation efforts.

We also found a lot of issues with consent in XR (extended reality) and neurotech, which cuts across research ethics. For example, there are ethical concerns with so-called “deadbots” – chatbots constructed based on conversational data from deceased individuals. How is consent possible for an application that did not exist when the person was conscious? Likewise, in neurotech we must be aware of changing people’s mental states. For example, sometimes a treatment is required before consent can be given, but then can it be revoked by the patient? Or, if a BCI (brain-computer interface) changes a person’s mental states, can it also change how they feel about consent?

 

“Each technology family has many issues and at least one beastly challenge to conquer.”

 

Q: Which of the three technology families did you find particularly fraught with ethical issues? Why?

LA: The three technology families – XR, neurotech, and climate engineering – are at very different stages of development. Many applications in XR are already in production and available to the public; neurotech is starting in medical tests but is mainly based on future promise, whereas climate engineering is only beginning to be explored with huge issues on the horizon.

Each technology family has many issues and at least one beastly challenge to conquer. For climate engineering, it’s irreversibility – can we make irrevocable changes to the planet? For neurotech, it’s autonomy – how can we enhance cognitive abilities, while respecting independent and free thinking? For XR, it’s a set of particular issues, like nudging, manipulation, deep fakes, concerns about fairness, and others. I think it’s a wider array of issues for XR because it is already hitting the reality of implementation, where many practical problems arise. There are even skeptical researchers who think that virtual realities should not exist at all because of the moral corruption they may cause, especially with children. This fundamental issue still lingers spurring the need for empirical studies.

 

Q: What were some overarching ethical themes common to all three technology families?

LA: There are cross-cutting issues that relate to uncertainty, novelty, power, and justice. But the most important aspect that kept reappearing was the narratives about new technologies that are found in lay reactions to it.

We used a framework to elucidate this in the report that was developed in the DEEPEN (Deepening ethical engagement and participation in emerging Nanotechnologies) project over 10 years ago. It worked very well in the context of our ethical analysis. Many concerns were along the lines of five tropes of lay reactions to novelty: “Be careful what you wish for”, based on the motifs of exact desire and too big a success; “Messing with Nature”, based on the motifs of irreversibility and power; “Opening Pandora’s box”, based on the motifs of irreversibility and control; “Kept in the dark”, based on the motifs of alienation and powerlessness; and “The rich get richer, the poor get poorer”, based on the motifs of injustice and exploitation. Although these reactions are natural, and sometimes justified, we had to keep asking ourselves whether they are the most pressing ones. It’s still astonishing that the same narratives apply across times and technologies.

 

“There are cross-cutting issues that relate to uncertainty, novelty, power, and justice. But the most important aspect that kept reappearing was the narratives about new technologies that are found in lay reactions to it.”

 

Source: TechEthos Report on the Analysis of Ethical Issues

 

Q: How can the research community best implement the tools/findings in this report?

LA: The report is structured in a hierarchical way, starting with some core dilemmas that are the foundation of reasoning, then there are applications and, finally, values and principles. The value sections are the most important for researchers and practitioners. They cover the key considerations, and each value section ends with a set of questions. We wrote these questions with a researcher in mind. What should one consider when trying to explore, design, and implement the technology? What are the checks and balances with respect to the value in question? We intended these questions to be operationalisable so they offer the best value for implementation.

 

Q: How can policymakers better support the integration of “ethics by design” in emerging technologies?

LA: Technology research should be in step with ethical research on the technologies. The time difference between the development in tech and ethical or policy research creates a divide, where we have to work retroactively, and it’s very inefficient. Imagine if carbon-intensive technology and industry were developed alongside climate preservation from the very beginning. Of course, there have been philosophers and ethicists, like Hans Jonas, as early as the 1970s calling for ecological activism and responsibility for future generations. But they were mavericks and pioneers, working with passion but without support. We should try to open up these perspectives and take them seriously at the policy level when the technologies are emerging.

 

“Technology research should be in step with ethical research on the technologies. The time difference between the development in tech and ethical or policy research creates a divide, where we have to work retroactively, and it’s very inefficient.”

 

Q: What role can funding organisations play in centering ethics in emergent tech?

LA: It’s a difficult question to answer since causality is very uncertain in provoking ethical reflection. Ethical reflection is, as we like to call it, opaque. It’s not always transparent when it happens or why. What will actually cause people – researchers and industry alike – to stop and reflect? In our report, we avoided guidelines or directives that would offer “solutions”. Instead, we focused on questions that should be asked. Questions are better suited for starting a reflection on ethical issues. For example, if you’re building a language model, how will it deal with sensitive historical topics? How will it represent ideology? Will it have equal representation for different cultures and languages?

There is no “one way” to address these challenges, but the questions are important and researchers should at least be aware of them. If the standards for dealing with them are not clear yet, I would prefer to see each research project find their own way of tackling them. That will lead to more original approaches and, if a working consensus is found, standardisation. But the central role played by the funding bodies could be to guide the researchers into the relevant questions and start the reflection. We intended our report to provide some instruction on that.

 


You can read our summary of the TechEthos report by Dr Adomaitis on the analysis of ethical issues in Digital eXtended Reality, neurotechnologies, and climate engineering here, and the full report here. 

TechEthos is led by AIT Austrian Institute of Technology and will be carried out by a team of ten scientific institutions and six science engagement organisations from 13 European countries over a three-year period. ALLEA is a partner in the consortium of this project and will contribute to enhancing existing legal and ethical frameworks, ensuring that TechEthos outputs are in line with and may complement future updates to The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity.

The Path to Inclusive Science Paved with Preprints?

The Open Science movement, characterised by the open sharing of ideas, theories, methods, data, and evidence to form the basis for a collaborative and innovative global research system, is gaining ground across the world – no doubt, accelerated by the unprecedented sharing of scientific insights during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The crisis clearly showed that by opening up research outputs early to wider review and feedback, we stand to create more agile research ecosystems that are capable of delivering effective solutions to global challenges.

Dr Jessica Polka heads ASAPbio, a scientist-driven non-profit promoting transparency and innovation in life science communication.

One important lever for change in the way science is share and communicated is the use of preprints – the advance versions of scientific papers that are published before the formal peer review process. Preprints are thought to allow for the faster exchange of research, and enable a more open, collaborative, and inclusive research culture.

In this conversation with Dr Jessica Polka, Executive Director and Co-Founder of ASAPbio (Accelerating Science and Publication in biology), we talk about the productive use of preprints, as well as the critical role for transparent and open peer review in making research more accessible, diverse, inclusive and equitable.

Question: What drove you towards working to make scientific publishing more open and transparent?

Jessica Polka: As a postdoc, I felt that the incentives for early career researchers often run counter to the goals of efficient and collaborative knowledge generation – for instance, the push to place greater importance on publishing in a high-impact journal rather than on ensuring reproducibility, to avoid sharing data for years until it forms a “complete story,” or to value shallow metrics above social impact. I saw preprints as a practical way for many researchers to engage with open science, which would not only benefit individual researchers but also the research enterprise as a whole.

However, open communication about research doesn’t end when someone posts a preprint. Thus, we expanded our work at ASAPbio to include open peer review, both within and outside of journals.

Q: Could you tell me a bit more about preprints and how they could improve research culture and output?

JP: Preprints remove barriers to sharing, reading, and collaborating. In contrast to a traditional journal article that might be hidden from all but a handful of peer reviewers for months or even years before publication, preprints enable everyone around the world to have rapid access to new research. This puts authors in control of dissemination. This system is also compatible with traditional journals, thus enabling people to participate in both open science and more conventional workflows simultaneously.

Furthermore, when people share a journal article, they’re putting out a product that is more or less “set in stone”, and any comments or suggestions for improvement are not likely to be incorporated. By contrast, when someone shares a preprint, they can choose to share a draft in provisional form at a time when they can incorporate feedback and improve their work, maybe even add new collaborators to the project. This creates a genuinely productive dialogue.

“The traditional peer review system in journals is built on trust: authors and readers trust that when a paper is published in a given journal, it has been through a rigorous process. In turn, the editors of journals select reviewers they know they can rely on, creating a “club” of sorts.”

What are the benefits for individual researchers, especially early career researchers?

JP: Preprints allow everyone to participate in providing feedback on a paper. Besides social media and the commenting functionalities of preprint servers, there is a thriving ecosystem of projects that provide peer review on preprints, ranging from projects that highlight interesting preprints (e.g., preLights), to those that automate screening (e.g., ASWG), and provide editor-organised review (e.g., Review Commons, Peer Community In). Many of these projects, such as PREreview and ASAPbio’s own Crowd preprint review activities, are directly beneficial to early career researchers who might be more comfortable commenting anonymously, collaborating with others, or covering specific areas of a paper. And because these projects invite researchers to comment on a paper outside the context of a journal, reviewers can focus on the quality and merit of the science as opposed to whether it meets certain criteria for publication, which can only improve research outputs as whole.

Q: What do you think are the challenges in making the broader peer review system more inclusive?

JP: The traditional peer review system in journals is built on trust: authors and readers trust that when a paper is published in a given journal, it has been through a rigorous process. In turn, the editors of journals select reviewers they know they can rely on, creating a “club” of sorts. Furthermore, as the identities of reviewers and editors are often not known (which is sometimes necessary to protect the vulnerable from retaliation), there’s the potential for favouritism and bias.

Q: Do preprints make research more inclusive?

JP: Preprints are free to read and to post, and the screening process of preprint servers is more “light-weight” than peer review at a journal. This lowers barriers to sharing research, and it means that anyone, not just people invited by a journal, can act as a peer reviewer. However, there are disparities in who is posting preprints, with more representation from select countries and institutions (see Abdill et al.). We recognise that preprints alone aren’t a complete solution, and we are working towards broader cultural change in how research is created, communicated, and assessed.

“…since peer review decisions have significant impact on the authors under review, often making or breaking opportunities for funding, hiring, and promotion, it’s important that peer review proceeds fairly.”

Q: What are some first steps we can take within the peer review system to increase equity and opportunities for underrepresented groups (women, researchers from the global south, unaffiliated researchers) in research?

JP: First, we need a stronger evidence base from which we can recommend interventions. Journals and peer review projects could collect more demographic information from peer reviewers, authors, and editors to ensure that interventions can be studied more systematically. Tools such as PREreview’s bias reflection guide, for example, could be integrated into review workflows, which could help to counteract homophily.

Finally, we need better systems for recommending (and building trust in) reviewers that come from outside a given editor’s network. For example, public reviews, whether on published articles or on preprints (see our Preprint Reviewer Recruitment Network), could serve as work samples to demonstrate that a researcher would make a strong reviewer.

Q: What are some of the “success stories” from ASAPbio that have led to an increase in transparency in the peer review system?

JP: After our 2018 meeting on peer review, over 300 journals signed an open letter committing to enabling the publication of peer review reports alongside published articles. This surfaces the important scholarship involved in peer review, helps readers better understand the paper, and the transparency improves the integrity of the peer review process. On the preprint side, dozens of researchers have signed a pledge to publish reviews they have written alongside preprints. In addition to the many benefits to preprints listed above, this action opens the door to the reuse of peer reviews, which can serve as a catalyst for more public conversations about research.

“As a postdoc, I felt that the incentives for early career researchers often run counter to the goals of efficient and collaborative knowledge generation…”

Q: In your opinion, how would improving diversity, inclusion, and equity in the peer review system contribute to scientific progress?

JP: Peer review can improve the robustness and clarity of the vast body of scientific literature so it’s important that it works as well as possible. Evidence has shown that diverse groups are better at solving problems. From this standpoint, it’s vital that we bring a variety of perspectives into editorial processes.

Furthermore, since peer review decisions have significant impact on the authors under review, often making or breaking opportunities for funding, hiring, and promotion, it’s important that peer review proceeds fairly. Ultimately, fair processes can help to preserve the diversity we need to solve important research questions.


This interview is part of the ALLEA Digital Salon Women in Science Series. Dr Jessica Polka will moderate a panel discussion at the upcoming webinar on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) in the scholarly peer review system, co-organised by ALLEA, GYA (The Global Young Academy) and STM (International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers). You can find out more about this webinar, which will tackle the challenges and opportunities for improving IDEA in peer review here.


About Jessica Polka

Dr Jessica Polka serves as Executive Director of ASAPbio, a researcher-driven non-profit organisation working to promote innovation and transparency in life sciences publishing in areas such as preprinting and open peer review. Prior to this, she performed postdoctoral research in the department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School following a PhD in Biochemistry & Cell Biology from UCSF. Dr Polka is also a Plan S Ambassador, an affiliate of the Knowledge Futures Group, an independent non-profit organisation that works to make knowledge more open and accesible, and a steering committee member of Rescuing Biomedical Research.

Read More by Jessica Polka

The evolving role of preprints in the dissemination of COVID-19 research and their impact on the science communication landscape

Preprinting the COVID-19 pandemic

Ten simple rules to consider regarding preprint submission

Publish peer reviews

Fewer papers would scotch early careers

martin farley digital salon

Fighting for Sustainable Science – One Lab at a Time

Academic and research institutions play a key role in providing evidence on the climate crisis as well as potential mitigation strategies. But, what are they doing to become more sustainable themselves? ALLEA’s latest report Towards Climate Sustainability of the Academic System in Europe and beyond suggests that much more can, and should, be done to make the academic system climate-conscious and sustainable. A change in culture is required where all stakeholders within the academic system become aware of their climate impact and act to reduce it.

One focal point for such a culture shift within academia is the lab. Laboratories are integral spaces for research, innovation and technological progress. But they are also resource and energy intensive. One estimate found that labs account for about 2% of global public waste and use as much as 3 to 10 times more energy per square metre compared with a typical office.

Martin Farley is Europe’s first full-time sustainable laboratory specialist.

What can labs do to reduce their climate impact? That is the very question Martin Farley has been working on in the last years. As the creator and manager of the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) at the University College London (UCL), he has been doing this by creating and disseminating a green lab standard, and providing toolkits and resources to help scientific institutions improve the sustainability and efficiency of their laboratories. In this interview, we talk to Mr Farley, Europe’s first full-time sustainable laboratory specialist, to understand the challenges and opportunities in the quest to reduce the climate impact of labs.

 

“Sustainability as a topic of research and discussion will only grow, so I thought, ‘why not consider it in laboratories also?’” 

 

Question: What motivated you to push for the sustainable transformation of scientific labs? Why did you focus on this particular niche?

Martin Farley: I worked and studied in labs in the US and Netherlands. During my time in these labs, I couldn’t help but notice the volume of plastic that I was using, particularly for tissue culturing (a research technique that involves growing animal or plant cells/tissues on an artificial medium outside the parent organism), and I wondered if anyone was doing anything about the sustainability of science. Sustainability as a topic of research and discussion will only grow, so I thought, “why not consider it in laboratories also?” It turns out that science facilities, while niche, are quite resource intensive with many opportunities for sustainability wins.

 

Q: Tell us a little bit about how you developed, and currently manage, UCL’s LEAF Programme. Was this an initiative that came from you? What barriers were the most challenging to overcome in the process of setting up the programme?

MF: While I initiated the programme, the support from UCL has been crucial to LEAF’s creation, particularly support from Joanna Marshall-Cook, Aaron Kashab, Vindya Dassanayake, Richard Jackson, and Ciaran Jebb, to name a few. Beyond the expected challenges one encounters when developing a new initiative, such as time, creating a website, or building engagement, I’m not sure there have been many that are notable. Both the scientific and sustainability communities have been hugely supportive of this effort, and LEAF has grown thanks to that support. I should add that we still have more to develop, and we need to find the best ways to expand LEAF’s remit while maintaining impact.

 

“We could also include sustainability and efficiency requirements, as we do with health and safety requirements, in the building and refurbishment of science facilities.”

 

Q: In a Nature article, you mention that the LEAF framework was developed to set shared standards for sustainable laboratories. Can this framework be applied across disciplines and geographical boundaries (we noticed that most of the signatories are in the UK)?

MF: While the majority of institutions that have signed up are from the UK, LEAF is in use in 14 countries now, including two institutions in Australia. This framework certainly can be applied beyond the UK. We’re also developing some new versions of LEAF for more specialist environments, which should be ready in early 2023 for participating institutions. The work that we’ve done has shown that there’s a lot of people working in specialist environments seeking guidance on how to be more sustainable.

 

Q: You also advocate for more stringent, mandatory “sustainability requirements” analogous to those for occupational safety. What could that look like?

MF: There’s much scope for discussion on what this would look like, but I like the health and safety model – having common, accessible standards that operations may be assessed against. Such standards in the sustainability space should be supported by academic institutions, funders, and commercial operations. We could also include sustainability and efficiency requirements, as we do with health and safety requirements, in the building and refurbishment of science facilities.

 

“I think more sharing and standardisation of approaches might be positive in our transition to climate sustainability. Currently, institutions need to […] repeat the same learnings that others have likely already done.”

 

Q: What are some of the challenges you have encountered with institutions trying to replicate the LEAF standard?

MF: I think generally most sustainability initiatives are voluntary, and so are dependent on the availability and willingness of individuals. This is a challenge for all such initiatives: How does one transition from a singular effort of goodwill to a common practice? My hope is LEAF helps them make that transition more easily, but it’s only one part of the wider sustainability efforts.

 

Q: Beyond laboratories, what would you like to see more/less of in the academic system’s transition towards climate sustainability? What are the low-hanging fruits that we can immediately build on right now?

MF: I think more sharing and standardisation of approaches might be positive in our transition to climate sustainability. Currently, institutions need to each develop their own strategies, create their own job descriptions, and repeat the same learnings that others have likely already done. I know academic institutions in some ways are in competition, but when it comes to sustainability, we need to understand that we’re on the same side. Sharing of practices does take place, but more could facilitate a quicker acceptance of targets, standards, etc. Also, there could be more efforts made to understand scope 3 carbon emissions (indirect emissions across an organisation’s whole value chain, such as travel, lab equipment, materials and waste) because by only focusing on scope 1 (direct emissions such as from refrigerants, on-site electricity generation and gas consumption for heating) and scope 2 (indirect emissions from energy directly consumed) emissions, we might be shooting ourselves in the foot. Low-hanging fruit might be as simple as shutting down our buildings (lights, heating etc.) after office hours.

 

“I know academic institutions in some ways are in competition, but when it comes to sustainability, we need to understand that we’re on the same side.”

 

Q: What institutional or cultural practices within academia are the most difficult to change in the transition towards climate sustainability?

MF: I think our accounting systems potentially disincentivise sustainability solutions. The financial year is 12 months, but sustainability planning might rely on much longer time scales, and this mismatch could create challenges for institutions to incorporate climate-conscious solutions. But we can work around these challenges. The budget to build a facility, for example, might be different from the one that pays to operate it. Equally, the individuals who utilise resources (like energy or consumables) often aren’t those who are responsible for paying for them, which affects consumption – bridging this gap between the payers and users could have a positive impact on consumption. I think we need to consider financial models and incentives alongside standards if we want to achieve some long-term net-zero goals.

 

Q: Do you believe that the sustainable transformation within academia is happening fast enough?

MF: I’m certainly encouraged enough to keep trying!

 

Martin Farley will be one of the panelists at the hybrid event Towards Climate Sustainability – Taking the Academic System from Evidence to Action on 2 November, co-organised by ALLEA in partnership with the Swiss Embassy in Berlin and Die Junge Akademie as part of 2022 Berlin Science Week.  Learn more about this event here.

 

 

About Martin Farley

Martin Farley is the founder and manager of the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework Programme (LEAF) at the University College London (UCL), as well as the Director of Green Lab Associates, a consultancy which helps make laboratories more efficient and sustainable.

While he began his career as a biologist, Farley went on to become the UK’s (and Europe’s) first full-time sustainable laboratory specialist at the University of Edinburgh. Today, his pioneering strategies are used by research universities in Europe, Australia, China, Singapore, and Japan to identify, track, and meet sustainability goals in the lab. Farley has been recognised for his innovative work in the sustainability sphere with the EAUC’s Sustainability Professional Green Gown award, as well as an Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment fellowship.

 

Recent Publications by Martin Farley

How green is your science? The race to make laboratories sustainable

Getting labs to net zero needs a coordinated effort

Re-use of labware reduces CO2 equivalent footprint and running costs in laboratories

“It Is Really Important for Experts to Know When They Are Helping and When They Are Making Things Worse”

Roger Pielke is Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. He holds degrees in mathematics, public policy and political science. His wide interdisciplinary background and his skills as a communicator have made him a rara avis for science. He comfortably crosses scientific fields and professional roles as a speaker, an expert advisor, an author, and a prolific scholar in various areas. He recently visited Copenhagen to speak at the Final conference of the COST Cross-Cutting Activity on Science Communication, where ALLEA participated as one of the COST Action partners. In this interview, he touches upon key dilemmas for scientists when sharing their expertise and advice and when defining their role in democracy, communications or climate change.

Roger Pielke at the conference ‘Science advice under pressure’ on 27 April 2022. © SAPEA 2022, Sophie Lenoir.

Politicians will benefit much more from experts when those experts have a sophisticated and realistic appreciation for how policy and politics take place.

Question: Based on your experience in science advice and your research, what do politicians need from science and scientists? Is it only knowledge and evidence or is it more?  

Roger Pielke: Politicians need a range of things from science and scientists. They often need information or knowledge, and this can include scientific judgments on specific questions, like: How many people currently have COVID-19? Or it might include policy options, like: What might we do to keep the elderly safer in the pandemic? Two things that go beyond science are understanding and collaboration. Politicians will benefit much more from experts when those experts have a sophisticated and realistic appreciation for how policy and politics take place. As well, scientists need to use this understanding to be willing to engage and collaborate with politicians to support democratic governance.

Advisory bodies that have a clear mandate, well-understood terms of reference and ample experience perform very well.

Q.: In your opinion, what is a good example of an expert advice system? Why?

R.P.: In general, advisory bodies that have a clear mandate, well-understood terms of reference and ample experience perform very well. An example of such bodies are vaccine approval committees, they typically perform their work outside the public gaze and rely on relevant expertise to make recommendations about approval (or not) of proposed vaccines. These committees work so well that it is notable when they do not, such as when President Biden announced that COVID-19 boosters for certain age groups, but the relevant advisory committee had yet to meet. That resulted in some scrambling by both the Biden Administration and his advisors, illustrating the importance with which such committees are viewed.

Q.: You talk about ‘shadow advice’ as “formal or informal mechanisms of advice established outside of governmental science advisory processes to provide a counter or opposition body of legitimate, authoritative and credible guidance to policy makers.” Should we worry about this type of oppositional self-organised expert advice, or can it also benefit democracy?

R.P.: Shadow science advice has always been around (in fact, that’s what I’m offering in this interview!), but it took on a particular prominence during the pandemic. Around the world we have seen scientists and other experts self-organize to challenge both official advisory bodies as well as government policies. In democratic systems it is of course proper for people to self-organize and advocate for their preferred values and policies, that is democracy at its best. At the same time, experts have unique legitimacy and authority in society and, as we have seen, can delegitimize expertise and government, and damage democratic practices. It is really important for experts to know when they are helping and when they are making things worse – and if they don’t know the difference, maybe to slow down and figure that out.

Expert advisory systems work best when they reflect the fact that advice needs to be created, it does not emerge spontaneously from everyone “playing their own instrument.” 

Q.: At the COST conference, a metaphor that left everyone rethinking their role in the science community was your advice on science communication. Science communication should work as an orchestra, you said, and make more music instead of noise. As a science communicator yourself, how do you “conduct yourself” to make music instead of noise?

R.P.: One thing I like about the orchestra metaphor is that it highlights the importance of diverse expertise (e.g., violins and percussion), coordination and leadership. Expert advisory systems work best when they reflect the fact that advice needs to be created, it does not emerge spontaneously from everyone “playing their own instrument.”  There is both an art and a science to providing expert advice that empowers policy making, and in a way that supports democratic ideals. Science communicators should have some understanding of this art and science, if the goal is to improve the practice of policy and politics.

Q.: Back in 1994, you said in your dissertation: “Debate over ‘global warming’ has distracted scientists and policymakers alike from the requirements of effective decisionmaking”. What did you mean with this and how has this changed since then?

R.P.: I thought that was just sitting on a shelf somewhere! Yes, I have long argued that the debate (such as it is) over various elements of the science of climate change often distracts from the more important questions of what we might be doing to accelerate decarbonization and to make society less vulnerable to climate and climate change. Those issues require science, of course — e.g., science associated with zero-carbon energy technologies and that of disaster resilience. These topics require a different sort of science than typically is at the center of attention in climate discussions, which often focus on long-term projections of climate futures conditioned on various scenarios. We know that decarbonization is a global priority and better adaptation is needed. I’d argue we already knew that in 1994!

The climate science community has well-served the issue of climate change, but it is time to recognize that the knowledge that we need in 2022 is quite different than that needed in 1988 (when the IPCC was created) and institutions should evolve accordingly.

Q.: What should the climate science community set as a priority when providing advice or interacting with politics today and in the next decade?

R.P.: The first question to ask is of policy makers: What information is it that you need to make better decisions? In my experience policy makers do not need more physical science or climate modelling, they need policy options, including technological options. If carbon-free energy were cheap, easy to deploy and came with a broad social acceptability, the issue of decarbonization would be straightforward. The broad climate community should be focusing more attention on developing viable options that meet these criteria. Of course, many people are focused on these issues, and that is a good thing, but there is considerable room for greater urgency on these issues. The climate science community has well-served the issue of climate change, but it is time to recognize that the knowledge that we need in 2022 is quite different than that needed in 1988 (when the IPCC was created) and institutions should evolve accordingly.

 

 

Science with Society: The SCISO Project

While some studies report that people tend to have a largely positive outlook on science and scientists in a general sense, public opinion appears increasingly polarised on some specific issues that tend to be more global in nature, ranging from public health to climate change. Misinformation, conspiracy theories, and fake news play a key role in deepening the gap between science and society, and their ability to spread is intensified thanks to the widespread use of social media.

What measures can scientists take to make their work more trustworthy? What tools are available to increase and improve the dialogue between science and society? These are the type of questions that the SCISO Project seeks to answer. Launched by the Global Young Academy’s Working Group Trust in (Young) Scientists, the ‘Science with Society’ or ‘SCISO’ Project aims at improving the relationship between science and society through a series of freely available video tutorials that intend to “enable scientists to reflect about the role of science in society, and to communicate with broader audiences.” The project provides two sets of video tutorials (and quite a bit of bonus material!): Ethics and Scientific Integrity, and Science Communication, for which the GYA partnered with the German National Institute for Science Communication (NaWik).

In this interview, Professor Lisa Herzog, co-lead of the Trust in (Young) Scientists Working Group, explains the vision and mission of the SCISO Project.

 

“Our first impulse was to ask: ‘What can we do to increase trust in science?’, but this quickly led us to the question: ‘How can science be trustworthy?'”

 

Question: Why is the SCISO Project necessary in our current social context?

Lisa Herzog: Our starting point was the fact that in certain areas, there’s quite some public distrust in science. Vaccine hesitancy and climate change scepticism are the most prominent examples. In our working group at the Global Young Academy we realised that you find versions of this phenomenon in almost all countries from which our members come. At the same time, being early-career researchers, we were all very much aware that the institutional contexts of science have a logic of their own. That’s of course necessary, up to a point, but it can also make science a kind of “black box” for outsiders.

Our first impulse was to ask: “What can we do to increase trust in science?”, but this quickly led us to the question: “How can science be trustworthy, what does that take?” When we started looking for answers, we realized that there’s a lot of research being done on these topics, for example by sociologists or philosophers of science, but researchers in other fields such as engineering are hardly exposed to it.

SCISO – Introduction to the project

 

Q.: One of the aims of the SCISO Project is to address the “perceived gap between science and society.” How does this gap manifest itself in practical terms, and why is it so detrimental?

L.H.: Well, take vaccine hesitancy: It can literally cost people their lives! But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The more general question is this: Is science organised in ways that allow it to make its contributions to society? Oftentimes the answer is yes, but sometimes, due to a lack of communication, this fact does not become clear to the public.

Indeed, sometimes there are vested interest groups that actually work to maintain this gap between science and society. Here we can think of the historical example of the tobacco industry working to obscure the facts that their products were either addictive or potentially detrimental to one’s health.  A more current example is when the fossil fuel industry tries to obscure or muddle the messages of climate scientists to create uncertainty around the issue.

Let me add, however, that this is not meant as a call for doing only “applied” research with an immediate payoff. Citizens are also interested in many questions of fundamental research, e.g., in astronomy or history. And of course, the history of science has shown time and again that fundamental research can generate new insights that turn out to be hugely impactful. But that is also something that needs to be explained to a broader public; we cannot simply assume, as scientists, that everyone is as enthusiastic about research as we are!

 

“..if more young scientists communicate about their work, it also offers a counterweight to the stereotype of scientists as old white men in lab coats.”

 

Q.: How do you think young scientists in particular can contribute to narrowing the gap between science and society?

L.H.: We think that young scientists are in a very good position for communicating with non-scientists, for a number of reasons. First, being relatively new to science means that you still remember what it was like to not know certain things, and how you had your first moments of insight and understanding – and that can be quite useful for talking to people outside your own field.

Second, many young researchers are familiar with social media and can use these tools to communicate their research. And last but not least, if more young scientists communicate about their work, it also offers a counterweight to the stereotype of scientists as old white men in lab coats; science is in fact much more diverse (even though it could and should become even more diverse) and this should also be visible to society overall.

 

Q.: The SCISO Project focuses on two sets of tutorials: Ethics and Scientific Integrity, and Science Communication. Why these two?

L.H.: The first set offers tools and arguments for reflecting about the role of science in society, and also about some of the problematic practices within science that we have recently seen and that scientists need to be aware of – without ethical awareness, how can you tell others that they should trust you? The second set is more practical: it’s about concrete strategies for science communication that you can start using immediately. We also have a third set of tutorials in the making that we’re currently finalising: interviews with people who work at the interface of science and society, e.g. in policy advice, and who have agreed to share some of their insights and experiences.

 

Q.: The SCISO Project kicked off before Covid-19 became a global health crisis, but the ongoing pandemic undoubtedly increased the need to strengthen the links between science and society. Has the pandemic redirected the aims/course of the project in any significant way?

L.H.: It has made even clearer to us how important the topics of the project are!

Of course, during the pandemic the spotlight was very much on the need for science communication and science-policy-advice. But take the topic we cover in tutorial 8, which explores the relation between scientific and other forms of knowledge. This is something that researchers in science-and-technology studies have pointed out for a long time: that scientific knowledge, important as it is, is not the only form of knowledge. There is also experiential knowledge, and indigenous knowledge, and many other forms.

What you saw in the pandemic, at least in the first phase, was a very strong focus on just one type of knowledge: medical knowledge from virologists and epidemiologists. But to make decisions about policy measures, you need different forms of knowledge as well, e.g. about the living conditions of families and how this affects both parents and children forced into home-schooling situations. We hope that by raising awareness about the need for taking multiple perspectives into account, we can also contribute, in the long run, towards better decision-making.

 

“..sometimes simply saying: ‘That’s a good question, thanks for it. I don’t know the answer now, but I’ll look into it’, is much more important and leads to much better conversations.”

 

Q.: A topic covered in one of the SCISO tutorials is on improving the relationship between experts and “lay people” and moving away from the so-called “deficit model”, taking into account that we are all lay people in most fields of research. With this in mind, what attitudinal changes are necessary from both experts and lay people to reach more fruitful interactions?

L.H.: What we emphasise in this video is the need for a certain attitude: one that takes seriously that all forms of knowledge are limited, and that, as you say, we’re all lay people in most areas.

I can confirm from my own experience that you don’t have to pretend you know everything; sometimes simply saying: “That’s a good question, thanks for it. I don’t know the answer now, but I’ll look into it,” is much more important and leads to much better conversations with others.

But for many of us, doing outreach work is still something we do as a kind of hobby, in addition to all the other tasks we have. The dialogue with non-scientists needs to be institutionalised, there need to be established formats, which also allow for longer-term collaborations between scientists, citizens, and policy-makers. Of course, these will have to look differently, and include different sets of people, for different fields of knowledge; we can learn from the formats that already exist, e.g. between medical researchers and patient advocacy groups, and see what works for other fields.

SCISO – Interacting with “lay people”

 

Q.: The Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year has highlighted a conflict from a quite different nature to Covid-19 that can equally disrupt the relationship between science and society. How is this relationship specifically affected in times of war, and how does the SCISO Project see the role of science in the face of such conflicts?

L.H.: Well, some of our GYA colleagues had to flee Ukraine under quite dramatic circumstances. What was noteworthy, though, was that the feelings of outrage and dismay about this war by many GYA members in Western countries (and I’m including myself here) were much stronger than about other conflicts in other parts of the world.

It almost seemed as if people realised for the first time that scientists can be victims of war or political suppression – but this is of course not true, this is a much older problem – look at the situations in Yemen or Afghanistan. Science is a global endeavour and flourishes on peaceful, constructive collaboration. Many Ukrainian scientists now see it as their responsibility to try to help their country, e.g., by putting their medical knowledge into the service of medical institutions. As scientists and scholars in other countries, we should try to support them, but we should of course try to do the same for scientists all over the world.

 

Watch all the SCISO tutorials

Visit the SCISO Project webpage

 

About Lisa Herzog

Professor Lisa Herzog, co-lead of the ‘Trust in Young Scientists’ Working Group at the Global Young Academy © Sylvia Germes

Lisa Herzog is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy and the Center for Philosophy, Politics and Economics of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. She studied philosophy, economics, political science and modern history at the universities of Munich (LMU) and Oxford.

Lisa works at the intersection of political philosophy and economics, focusing on the history of political and economic ideas, normative questions around markets, ethics in organizations, and political epistemology. She also writes for a broader public and participates in public debates about the ethics of finance, social justice, and workplace democracy. Since 2019 she has worked at the Faculty of Philosophy and the Center for Philosophy, Politics and Economics of the University of Groningen.

Lisa has been a member of the Global Young Academy since 2017 and she has served as co-lead of the ‘Trust in Young Scientists’ Working Group since 2018.

“We Have to Be Ready to Support Ukrainian Researchers as Long as Necessary”

Professor Paweł Rowiński. Photo: Jakub Ostalowski

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine shocked the world on 24 February 2022, and the humanitarian crisis that hence unfolded, more than 10 million people have been forced to flee their homes, with an estimated 6.5 million internally displaced within Ukraine, and an estimated 4 million fleeing to neighbouring countries, including Poland, Romania, Moldova and Hungary.

Of these neighbouring countries who have received Ukrainian refugees, Poland has received the largest amount, currently estimated at 2.3 million people. Thousands of them are scientists and researchers who have been forced to seek for a safe environment to continue their academic work. The international scientific community has mobilised fast to provide them with immediate assistance. Among them, the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAS), an ALLEA Member Academy, has set up a support programme with research stays specifically designed for scientists who have been displaced by the war.

“We do feel that systemic solutions are needed at this stage,” says Professor Paweł Rowiński, Vice President of the Polish Academy of Sciences and member of the ALLEA Board. He shares the current experience of the PAS in providing support to displaced scholars.

 

“The involvement of the civil society, non-governmental organisations and local governments over the last weeks has been impressive.”

 

Question: Almost 2.3 million refugees have crossed the Ukrainian-Polish border in the last weeks. How would you describe the general situation in Poland in relation to the arrival of Ukrainian refugees?

Paweł Rowiński: The current migration crisis poses a great challenge for Poland. However, the involvement of the civil society, non-governmental organisations and local governments over the last weeks has been impressive. In order to cope with this humanitarian crisis regular citizens have opened up their homes and invited guests from Ukraine to their spare bedrooms or living rooms. In the first weeks of war, when Polish border with Ukraine has been crossed by over 100.000 people daily, many Poles have been serving as ad hoc volunteers, preparing sandwiches or serving home-made soups on railway stations. Now, after over a month of war, the support is becoming more and more professional; however, many activities are still performed by regular citizens on a voluntary basis. We do feel that systemic solutions are needed at this stage.

 

Q.: Can you share the steps taken by the Polish Academy of Sciences to provide assistance to displaced Ukrainian scholars? 

P.R.: On March 1st the Polish Academy of Sciences has signed a new MoU with the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. On the same day, within the framework of this agreement, we have launched a call for proposals to support 3 to 6 month stays of Ukrainian scholars at the Institutes of the PAS. Note that under the umbrella of the PAS operate 70 research institutes. The funding was available to all researchers after their PhD regardless of their nationality, provided that before the war they had been employed at a Ukrainian scientific institution. Our budget allowed us to fund 50 scholars and it ran out within 4 days. We have therefore reached out to all international organisations the PAS is a member of to ask for additional support. We have received positive feedback from many organisations which either made a donation to our programme or waived our membership fees for 2022, allowing us to allocate our contributions to Ukrainian scholars at risk.

Thanks to the support of various institutions (see list below) we were able to support additional 20 scholars. All donations have been used in their entirety to support Ukrainian scholars. Simultaneously, many academies around the world reached out to us with their offers of help. We are truly grateful to our friends and partners around the world for their initiatives supporting Ukrainian scholars at risk. Thanks to our partnership with the National Academies of Sciences from the U.S. we are now able to continue the support scheme for displaced Ukrainian scholars at the PAS.

I need to also emphasize other ways of support. For example, the PAS Conference Centre in Jablonna offered free meals for more than 100 refugees from Ukraine. Our botanical garden and museums offered free access to all Ukrainian citizens. Most of our institutes proposed their own ways of support. Many of them prepared free accommodation for numerous researchers, and some researchers were also offered various kinds of contracts. One of our institutes – the Institute of Low Temperature and Structural Research in Wrocław – is in the process of transferring all the resources of three Ukrainian institutes to its own server in Poland. It will allow B.Verkin Institute for Low Temperature Physics and Engineering of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Kharkov, O.Ya. Usikov Institute for Radiophysics and Electronics and Institute of Radio Astronomy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine to continue their operation. Moreover, two serious Ukrainian journals: Journal of Mathematical Physics, Analysis, Geometry and Fizika Nizkikh Temperatur – Low Temperature Physics are continuously issued by that institute in Wroclaw. Plenty of alike initiatives are born in other PAS institutes.

 

“Right now we need financial support to provide basic living conditions for scholars who have fled Ukraine.”

 

Q.: Has the PAS received any support from EU-level institutions? Which other scientific organisations have you been collaborating with and how?

P.R.: We did not receive any support from EU-Level institutions. We hope that the EU will follow soon with providing support to all Ukrainian scholars at risk. Many academies set up different support schemes. For example Academia Sinica from Taiwan invited students and scholars from Ukraine for up to 6 month stays in Taiwan while the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has provided additional budget for scholars hosted in the Institutes of the PAS. Thanks to the partnership with our friends from the US. the support scheme launched in cooperation with the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine is again operational. We are also promised to receive additional funds from the Polish government but it is yet to materialise and for now we need to wait.

 

Q.: What type of help is most needed right now, and what would be the best way for the international scientific community to support the actions being taken by the Polish Academy of Sciences?

P.R.: Right now we need financial support to provide basic living conditions for scholars who have fled Ukraine. We have to remember however that many scholars, including male scholars aged between 18-60 years old, cannot leave the country. So we need to find a way to support their work in Ukraine. Many Ukrainian science institutions advocate for remote/online opportunities for their students and staff – open training courses, virtual labs, mentoring programmes, etc.

 

Q.: Given the current state of affairs, how much longer do you foresee that the PAS will be able to provide this support to scholars displaced by the war?

P.R.: The budget from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences allows to fund ca. 150 stipends for 3 months, or fewer stipends but for longer periods. At this moment in time we are not able to predict when Russia will stop the attack on Ukrainian civilians, schools, universities, hospitals, etc. We have to be ready to support Ukrainian researchers as long as necessary. Not to mention the investments that will have to be made to restore Ukrainian science base after the war.

 

Q.: What recommendations can you provide from the experience of the PAS to other scientific institutions setting up support schemes for displaced scholars?

P.R.: Stay in touch with the community under threat. Build your programmes in cooperation with the institutions affected by war. Act fast. Focus on people but don’t forget about the infrastructure.

 

About Paweł Rowiński

Professor Paweł Rowiński holds a degree in mathematics by the University of Warsaw, and doctoral and habilitation degrees in earth sciences with a specialisation in geophysics by the Institute of Geophysics, Polish Academy of Sciences.

Professor Rowiński has published more than 170 refereed scientific publications. He serves as Associate Editor for several prominent scientific journals and publications. In 2018 he was elected the Vice Chair of the Europe Division Leadership Team of the International Association for Hydro-Environment Engineering and Research IAHR. Since May 2015, he serves as Vice-President of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

 

The following institutions have provided support for the Polish Academy of Sciences to continue assisting scholars in need:

  • International Astronomical Union
  • International Centre for Mechanical Sciences
  • International Geographical Union
  • Nuclear Physics European Collaboration Committees
  • International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
  • International Committee of Historical Sciences
  • International Union of Forest Research Organization
  • International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • International Astronautical Federation
  • International Association of Byzantine Studies
  • The Alloy Phase Diagram International Commission
  • Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research
  • International Federation for Structural Concrete
  • Permanent International Committee of Linguists
  • International Institute of Noise Control Engineering
  • International Numismatic Council
  • International Union of Nutritional Sciences
  • International Commission of Military History
  • International Union of History and Philosophy of Science

 

ALLEA has partnered with the Breakthrough Prize Foundation to support scholars and scientific institutions impacted by the war in Ukraine, learn more about this initiative here. You can also read about other support schemes by European academies and ALLEA partners on our portal Support for Ukraine.

 

“Science Communication Is How Society Talks About Science”

Professor Massimiano Bucchi

The increasing amount and spreading capacity of online disinformation related to critical sociopolitical issues, such as vaccines or climate change, coupled with the ongoing global health crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic have all made it painfully clear that we need to become more adept at communicating science within society. Seeking to dissect the importance of increasing and improving communication channels between science and society, we talked with Massimiano Bucchi, Professor of Sociology of Science and Communication, Science and Technology at the University of Trento and one of the leading European scholars on the science of science communication.

Professor Bucchi, together with his colleague Brian Trench, defines Science Communication as “the social conversation(s) around science” and he explains in more detail what this definition encompasses. While he certainly believes that organisations should devote more resources training experts in science communication, he also believes that there should be an increased focus on “developing communication and engagement activities that are grounded on the  theoretical and empirical literature about science communication.”

 

Unfortunately, a representation of the public as hostile, sceptical and ignorant is still widespread among policy makers and experts, supporting a paternalistic and authoritarian vision of science communication and of science in society.

 

Question: You have been working in the field of science communication for many years, and you are now the Director of the International Master programme SCICOMM at the University of Trento. Where did your interest in the field of science communication originate from?

Massimiano Bucchi: As a sociologist, I think it is not possible to understand contemporary societies without taking into account the increasingly relevant role of science and technology. I am interested in science communication as one of the keys to study science in society dynamics and their transformations.

 

Q.: In a recently published essay you co-authored with Brian Trench, you define science communication as “the social conversation(s) around science.” Can you briefly elaborate on this definition?

M.B.: Science communication as social conversation is a broad, inclusive definition: science communication is “how society talks about science”, including everyday stories about science on radio programmes, in social networks, in artists’ studios, in cafés and bars. Add to that the novels, pop and rock songs, theatre and comedy performances that give presence to science in public and popular culture and in everyday life.

This view emphasizes a mode of interactive communication that is set in contrast with dissemination or other hierarchical modes, and a concept that embraces all that is being said on a certain matter in society. Our inclusive definition of science communication not only validates activities such as science cafés and science comedy that are oriented to pleasure, but also recognises as part of the wider practice of science communication the ‘spontaneous’ use in popular culture of images and ideas from and related to science.

 

“In many cases, communication by scientific experts (and sometimes even by research institutions) has been guided mostly by personal goodwill and inclination, without much consideration given to the extensive literature available on this topic, to data on public perception and audience intelligence .”

 

Q.: Why do we need experts specialising in science communication?

M.B.: We certainly need resources trained in science communication, particularly for research organisations. The point is not so much teaching practical science communication skills, or training science journalists (for whom, unfortunately, there are very few jobs) but developing communication and engagement activities that are grounded on the now vast and profound theoretical and empirical literature about science communication, its actors, processes and audiences.

 

Q.: In a 2010 commentary piece, you argued that science communication “is not (yet) established as an academic discipline but that [it] could emerge as a discipline with strong interdisciplinary characteristics.” Do you think this has changed over the last decade?

M.B.: Yes, the field has become more structured and established. But the importance of high quality science communication, which cannot be improvised or left to the individual talent or good will of natural scientists or general staff has still to be understood in many research and policy organisations.

 

I am not sure misinformation is the main challenge, at least in the narrow way in which it is usually defined through terms like “fake news”. The broader, central challenge is the quality of science communication: how to improve it, how to reward it, how to distinguish it.”

 

Q.: What do you think the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated about what is done right, and what still needs to improve in the way we communicate science? What would you say is the main impact that the pandemic has had in the field of science communication?

M.B.: We have been through the most spectacular science communication experiment in human history. Several international studies found citizens to be in general attentive to communication about the pandemic provided by health institutions and mostly sceptical of social media, with trust in institutions playing a key role. 

The unprecedented exposure of expert sources across the media has found many institutions unprepared to deal with such responsibility. In many cases, communication by scientific experts (and sometimes even by research institutions) has been guided mostly by personal goodwill and inclination, without much consideration given to the extensive literature available on this topic, to data on public perception and audience intelligence 

 

Q.: What are effective ways in which science communicators can contribute to the fight against scientific disinformation (i.e. on topics like anti vaccination or climate change denialism)? 

M.B.: I am not sure misinformation is the main challenge, at least in the narrow way in which it is usually defined through terms like “fake news”. The broader, central challenge is the quality of science communication: how to improve it, how to reward it, how to distinguish it from low quality, improvised science communication with unclear aims and limited intelligence of the context. Another long-term, educational challenge is building awareness for the quality of information and its value and cost (not just about science) among citizens.

Unfortunately, a representation of the public as hostile, sceptical and ignorant is still widespread among policy makers and experts, supporting a paternalistic and ultimately authoritarian vision of science communication and of science in society. As the literature from the past two decades clearly shows, this representation largely reflects unfounded prejudices.

 

Q.: What advice do you have for experts that wish to go in the science communication field? 

M.B.: Study and read broadly: history of science, sociology, psychology, literature.
 

Q.: Many creative formats, such as Nerd Nite, Pint of Science, or Long Night of Museums have been established to communicate science in a fun and innovative way, mixing knowledge with entertainment. What is your opinion of such formats? 

M.B.: The idea that the format shapes or guarantees the quality of the content today is very popular but probably misleading. Some of the content hosted within such formats may be more interesting or fun. However, we should look at the long-term consequences of such formats in terms of audience perception. Do they convey an idea that science – and science communication – can be easily and quickly improvised? This may not be a very constructive message, particularly for younger generations. 

 

Professor Massimiano Bucchi will be one of the panelists at this year’s Future of Science Communication Conference 2.0, organised by Wissenschaft im Dialog in partnership with ALLEA. The conference will take place in Brussels on 26 April 2022.

 

About Massimiano Bucchi

Massimiano Bucchi (Ph.D. Social and Political Science, European University Institute, 1997) is Full Professor of Science and Technology and Society and Communication, Science and Technology at the University of Trento and Director of the International Master  programme SCICOMM.

He has been visiting professor in Asia, Europe, North America and Oceania. Since 2018, he is director of the Master in Communication of Science and Innovation. He is the author of  several books (published in more than twenty countries) and papers in journals such as Nature, Science, PLOS ONE. Among his books in English: Science and the Media (Routledge, 1998); Science in Society (Routledge, 2004); Beyond Technocracy (Springer, 2009); Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology (2 eds. 2008, 2014, with B. Trench, Routledge) and the 4 vols. anthology The Public Communication of Science (Routledge, 2016). He has been the editor of the international peer reviewed journal Public Understanding of Science (Sage, 2016-2019) and regularly contributes to newspapers and TV programmes.

Recently published articles by Massimiano Bucchi

To boost vaccination rates, invest in trust

Rethinking science communication as the social conversation around science

Public Perception of COVID-19 Vaccination in Italy: The Role of Trust and Experts’ Communication

 

Discussing Academia’s Gender Problem with Dr Nafissa Ismail

 

 

On the occassion of International Women’s Day, we interviewed Dr Nafissa Ismail, Associate Professor at the School of Psychology, University of Ottawa and project leader of the ‘Women in Science’ Working Group at the Global Young Academy.

She discusses with us her experience as a first generation university graduate, her work researching the intricacies of the human brain, and how she is fighting back against gender discrimination on the college campus, particularly unconscious biases in hiring practices.

“Often I was in a room with colleagues and students sharing an idea and it was as though it wasn’t heard; then a male colleague would share the same idea and all of a sudden, it was a fantastic idea. The interesting thing is that I didn’t initially perceive it as discrimination. I thought it was my fault,” she explains.

We invite you to watch the interview, which is part of the ALLEA Digital Salon Women in Science Series. You can also read more about Dr Ismail’s work on stress-related mental illness here.

Two Generations on Women in Science Day: Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Valerie Domcke

“Because I was a girl, I was not expected to do science. I was expected to learn cookery and needlework”, says the woman who discovered radio pulsars and changed the way we look at the universe, astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell (Royal Society, Royal Society of Edinburgh).

She is one of the two interviewees that we brought together on today’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Valérie Domcke (Die Junge Akademie), theoretical physicist and cosmologist who works at CERN and was awarded the L’Oréal-Unesco “Génération Jeune Chercheuse” Prize as a young post-doc, provides us the perspective of a young researcher navigating through today’s scientific system.

We invite you to watch the two interviews for a reflection on the disparities and commonalities of being a woman in science across different decades in physics. Happy Women in Science Day!