EFDS Programme Announces Second Round Results: Supporting Displaced Scientists in Ukraine and Europe

The European Fund for Displaced Scientists (EFDS) Programme, launched in partnership with the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, has announced the results of its second round of funding.

The first round of calls, launched in May and June 2022, received overwhelming interest. All applications were evaluated and selected by an independent selection committee composed of senior officials from international and pan-European science institutions representing universities, funding organisations, and researchers, including ERC, EUA, Global Young Academy, and Science Europe. While 35 applications from European host institutions (Funding Line 1) and 6 applications from Ukrainian institutions (Funding Line 2) were selected for funding, a reserve list of applications under both Funding Lines was created.

Due to the ongoing situation in Ukraine, most scholars won’t be able to return to Ukraine in the near future. On the other hand, the vast majority of Ukrainian scholars remain in Ukraine (Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science, October 2022) and continue research and academic activities under increasingly hard conditions created by the war. Considering the urgent need to support those scholars, it has been decided that the second round would support applicants under both funding lines, distributing the remaining EFDS funds in support of 6 more applications under Funding Line 1 and two applications under Funding Line 2.

In this second round, the EFDS funds will help support 56 Ukrainian scholars who are still in Ukraine, including early-career researchers, as well as 6 scholars in European countries (Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria).

The EFDS Programme continues to be an important source of support for displaced scientists in Ukraine and Europe and will pursue its goal to provide assistance, networking opportunities, and other forms of support to help the Ukrainian science community.

Breakthrough Prize Opens Public Nominations for 2024 Prizes

ALLEA is proud to continue its partnership with the Breakthrough Prize for the upcoming 2024 awards in fundamental physics, life sciences, and mathematics. The Breakthrough Prize is a highly prestigious international award, recognising groundbreaking research and advancements in these fields. We encourage members of the European scientific community to nominate deserving individuals and teams for these awards, and to showcase the outstanding contributions of European scientists to the global research community.

 

Press release, The Breakthrough Prize, 19 January 2023

The public nomination period for the 2024 Breakthrough Prizes in Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences and Mathematics is now open. Nominations can be submitted online today through 1 April 2023. While self-nominations are prohibited, anyone may nominate another person. The nomination forms and rules are available at breakthroughprize.org.

For the 12th year, the Breakthrough Prize, recognized as the world’s largest science prize, will honor top scientists, handing out three prizes in Life Sciences, one in Fundamental Physics and one in Mathematics. Each prize comes with a $3 million award. In addition, six New Horizons Prizes, each for $100,000, will be available to promising early-career researchers in the fields of Physics and Mathematics. Nominations will also be taken for the Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize, an annual $50,000 award presented to early-career women mathematicians who have completed their PhDs within the previous two years.

The Breakthrough Prize, dubbed ‘The Oscars of Science,’ hosts an annual globally broadcast gala awards ceremony to celebrate the laureates’ achievements and to foster broad popular support for scientific endeavors and inspire the next generation of scientists. The cohort of 2023 laureates was announced in September 2022.

For the seventh year, the Breakthrough Prize will partner with two prestigious institutions – the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA) and ResearchGate – to directly engage with researchers and the science community.

ALLEA brings together more than 50 academies from over 40 countries, with members leading scholarly enquiry across all fields of the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

ResearchGate is the professional network for researchers. Over 20 million researchers use researchgate.net to share and discover research, build their networks, and advance their careers. Based in Berlin, ResearchGate was founded in 2008. Its mission is to connect the world of science and make research open to all. ResearchGate members are encouraged to nominate their peers for the 2024 prizes in Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences, and Mathematics.

Selection Committees are composed of previous Breakthrough Prize laureates, who select the winners from the list of candidates generated during the nomination period.

Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

One 2024 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics ($3 million) will recognize an individual or individuals who have made profound contributions to human knowledge. It is open to theoretical and experimental physicists. The prize can be shared among any number of scientists. Nominations are also open for the New Horizons in Physics Prize, which will include up to three $100,000 awards for early-career researchers who have already produced important work in their fields.

The Selection Committee for the 2024 physics prizes includes: Eric Adelberger, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Charles H. BennettCharles L. BennettSheperd DoelemanMichael GreenJens GundlachAlan GuthBlayne HeckelJoseph IncandelaCharles KaneHidetoshi KatoriAlexei KitaevAndrei LindeArthur McDonald, Juan Maldacena, Eugene MeleLyman PageSaul PerlmutterAlexander PolyakovAdam RiessJohn SchwarzNathan SeibergAshoke SenEva SilversteinDavid SpergelAndrew Strominger, Cumrun Vafa, Ewine F. van Dishoeck, Yifang WangRainer WeissEdward Witten, and Jun Ye.

Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

Three 2024 Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences ($3 million each) will be awarded to individuals who have made transformative advances in comprehending living systems and extending human life. One of the prizes is designated for progress in understanding of Parkinson’s disease or other neurodegenerative disorders.

The Selection Committee for the 2024 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences includes: David AllisJames AllisonVictor AmbrosDavid Baker, Shankar Balasubramanian, Cornelia BargmannAlim Louis BenabidFrank BennettDavid BotsteinEdward BoydenClifford P. BrangwynneLewis CantleyEmmanuelle Charpentier, Zhijian “James” Chen, Joanne ChoryDon ClevelandHans CleversKarl DeisserothTitia de LangeMahlon DeLongJennifer DoudnaCatherine DulacStephen ElledgeNapoleone FerraraJeffrey FriedmanMichael HallJohn HardyUlrich Hartl, Demis Hassabis, Helen HobbsArthur HorwichAnthony A. HymanJohn JumperDavid Julius, Katalin Karikó, Jeffery W. Kelly, David Klenerman, Adrian KrainerEric LanderRobert LangerVirginia LeeRichard LiftonDennis LoPascal MayerEmmanuel MignotKazutoshi MoriKim NasmythHarry NollerRoeland NusseYoshinori Ohsumi, Svante Pääbo, Gary RuvkunCharles SawyersAlexander VarshavskyBert VogelsteinPeter WalterRobert WeinbergDrew WeissmanShinya YamanakaMasashi YanagisawaRichard YouleXiaowei Zhuang, and Huda Zoghbi.

Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics

One 2024 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics ($3 million) will be awarded to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the field of mathematics. Nominations are also open for the New Horizons in Mathematics Prize, which will include up to three $100,000 awards for early-career researchers who have already produced important work in their fields. In addition, up to three $50,000 Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes will be presented to early-career women mathematicians who have completed their PhDs within the previous two years (2019, 2020).

The Selection Committee for the 2024 mathematics prizes includes: Ian AgolAlex EskinSimon DonaldsonMartin HairerMaxim KontsevichChristopher HaconVincent LafforgueJacob LurieJames McKernanTakuro MochizukiDaniel SpielmanTerence Tao, and Richard Taylor.

Information on the Breakthrough Prizes is available at breakthroughprize.org.

About ALLEA

ALLEA is the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities, representing more than 50 academies from over 40 countries in Europe. Since its foundation in 1994, ALLEA speaks out on behalf of its members on the European and international stages, promotes science as a global public good, and facilitates scientific collaboration across borders and disciplines. Jointly with its Member Academies, ALLEA works towards improving the conditions for research, providing the best independent and interdisciplinary science advice, and strengthening the role of science in society. In doing so, it channels the intellectual excellence and experience of European academies for the benefit of the research community, decision-makers, and the public.

About ResearchGate

ResearchGate is making research more efficient. Over 20 million researchers use researchgate.net to connect with peers, share and discover the latest research, and advance their careers. Based in Berlin, ResearchGate was founded in 2008. Its mission is to connect the world of science and make research open to all.

Event Report on the ALLEA-RIA Symposium on “International Reflections on STEM Education”

Today, ALLEA published an event report summarising the key take-aways from the recent symposium “International Reflections on STEM Education”. The symposium, which was organised jointly with the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, brought together local and European experts in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to discuss current challenges and opportunities in the field. Read the event report here.

This report highlights the need for a holistic approach to (STEM) education to provide future generations with the requisite knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values to enable them to address complex real-world problems. Other emerging themes relate to the need for a breadth of thoroughly validated teaching materials, the key roles of Initial Teacher Education and Teachers’ Professional Learning, as well as the importance of continuous interactions between educators, researchers, and policymakers to improve STEM teaching and learning.

The symposium was a valuable opportunity for experts in the field of STEM education to come together and share their knowledge and experiences. The report is a testament to the importance of international collaboration in addressing the challenges facing STEM education today.

The full event report is available here for those interested in learning more about the symposium and its findings. The programme for the symposium and detailed information on the speakers can be found here.

 

 

Job Offer: ALLEA Seeks Corporate Communications Officer

ALLEA, the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities, is currently seeking a Corporate Communications Officer (80-100% FTE) to join our team in Berlin initially for the duration of 24 months starting at the earliest opportunity.

 

Role and responsibilities  

Together with other members of the ALLEA team you will: 

  • Develop, implement and monitor communications strategies and plans. 
  • Produce, manage and disseminate effective communications tools and activities (publications, websites, social media, newsletters, press releases and other materials).  
  • Create and edit content for websites, news articles, press releases, opinion pieces and other publications, and prepare layout, format and graphic design of these products. 
  • Contribute to preparing and managing events, including conferences, workshops, webinars, and meetings (online/hybrid/in-person). 
  • Support and coordinate internal communication with ALLEA President, Board and Membership on both content and organisational matters. 
  • Draft minutes, briefing notes, summary reports, correspondence, and other written output.
  • Process incoming emails and queries; monitor running inquiries/calls/elections and provide timely responses.
  • In collaboration with other team members undertake foresight activities, connecting new ALLEA initiatives to existing ones, framing in reporting and communications.
  • Provide additional support to ALLEA President and Executive Director when required. 

Skills and experience  

  • Academic degree in a relevant subject and at least 2-3 years relevant professional experience in communications and/or corporate affairs positions.
  • Excellent proficiency in English, orally and in writing. German and/or other foreign languages are an asset.  
  • Good knowledge of Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator and experience in using CMS and databases (especially WordPress).   
  • Experience in organising meetings and events (physical, hybrid, digital).  
  • Proficiency in managing social media profiles.   
  • Experience in committee work and knowledge of internal communications tasks.
  • Expertise in copy-editing and publishing is an asset.  
  • Ability to work independently and in an international team.  
  • A quick learner with a keen eye for detail. 
  • Interest in the areas of expertise of ALLEA (international relations, scientific collaboration, science communications, research policy, scientific advice to policymaking, etc.)

Why join us 

ALLEA is the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities, representing more than 50 academies from 40 countries. ALLEA operates at the interface of science, policy and society and speaks out on behalf of its members to promote science as a global public good.  

You will become part of a multi-cultural and dynamic team, working in the centre of Berlin and helping ALLEA reach international stakeholders on societally relevant topics. As a not-for-profit organisation, our working environment is informal and collegial, and our team shares a dedication to work for a common greater good.  

This position offers the flexibility of combining working in the office and remotely. The monthly gross starting salary ranges between 3000-3300€ (corresponding to 80% FTE) depending on the level of qualifications, skills and previous experience. The employment contract will follow the conditions and regulations of the German public service tariff TV-L.  

ALLEA is an equal opportunity employer. For more information about us, please visit our website and/or have a look at our social media platforms on Twitter, LinkedIn and Mastodon.

How to apply 

If you are interested, please submit your digital application with a cover letter, CV, an example of a short written text (in English) and/or a sample of a graphic design work, and further relevant references or corresponding certificates as appropriate. 

Please submit all fines in one single PDF document (3 MB max.) to recruitment@allea.org by 05 February 2023. Shortlisted candidates will be contacted for interviews in the following days. 

Reflections on the ALLEA-GYA-STM webinar on “Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility in Scholarly Peer Review”

Download the event report here

On 17 November, ALLEA, the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities, the Global Young Academy, and STM (International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers) convened a moderated panel discussion about “Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) in Scholarly Peer Review” with four distinguished panelists from the global research and publishers’ communities. The full recording, as well as a short event report that summarizes the main themes that emerged during the discussion, are now available online. 

The scholarly peer review system currently does not accurately represent the research community as a whole: women, researchers from the Global South, early career researchers, and non-native English speakers are all among those under-represented. In addition, researchers not affiliated with the traditional well-established institutions often experience a disadvantage when their work is submitted for peer review. Together, these biases directly affect individuals’ career progression and are likely to impact the quality of research outputs and diversification of the research system in general. 

The aim of this webinar was to create more awareness of this topic, discuss existing barriers and gather input for possible solutions to overcome the challenge. To set the scene for an informed discussion, the moderator introduced the topic, followed by short opening statements in which each panellist outlined the barriers and possible solutions from their viewpoint. The audience had the opportunity to actively contribute to the discussion by sharing their views via different polls and asking questions to the panellists. 

The three organisations have now published a short event report, which summarizes the main themes that emerged during the discussions and identifies areas that can represent a path forward.

The programme for the webinar, detailed information on the speakers, and the complete recording, can be found here. 

 

Watch the full webinar

ALLEA Advocates for EU-Wide Secondary Publication Rights and Better Negotiation of Future “Big Deals”

In its latest statement, the European federation of academies of sciences and humanities (ALLEA) evaluates the undesirable effects of current “big deals” and provides recommendations for research institutions, libraries, and policymakers on how to arrive at a more equitable system for sharing and accessing research publications under the new EU copyright rules. Read the full statement here.

With the number of scholarly publications shared via the Gold Open Access model on the rise, access to the results of (often publicly funded) research is at an all-time high. However, breaking down these barriers for readers has come at the expense of increased barriers for authors, who often face substantial article processing charges (APCs) to publish their work immediately as Open Access.

This has led to a further increase in the exorbitant costs spent on scholarly publishing and creates significant disadvantages for researchers from the Global South, underfunded researchers in the social sciences and humanities, and early career researchers, among others. So-called “Big Deals” – “read and publish agreements” between (consortia of) research libraries, institutions, and universities on the one hand, and scientific publishers on the other – have further exacerbated these inequities and contributed to the consolidation of the already dominant market position of the major commercial publishers.

In addition, ALLEA is concerned that the conditions of the “Big Deals” fail to adequately reflect the new rules on copyright law in the European Union (EU), and do not fairly value the creative and research endeavours of academics and their institutions, as well as their investment and efforts to generate research results to the benefit of the public. While EU and national copyright laws provide for a variety of rules intended to facilitate the free use and sharing of research publications, the current “Big Deals” do not generally factor in these statutory free uses.

To arrive at a more equitable and affordable system that takes into account the new EU copyright rules, ALLEA recommends:

  1. Researchers and libraries to better consider their rights under the new EU copyright rules when negotiating the next generation of deals.
  2. Researchers and libraries to depart from the rights assignment model that still prevails today.
  3. Harmonisation of EU national copyright legislation and introduction of EU-wide Secondary Publication Rights without embargo.
  4. Further development of a community-driven non-profit publishing ecosystem.

Read the full statement here

ALLEA Launches New Task Force to Investigate the Intellectual Property System for New Genomic Techniques

When considering the potential of New Genomic Techniques (NGTs)  for crop improvement, such as genome editing using the CRISPR-Cas technology, (see ALLEA’s work on New Genomic Techniques), the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights is a critical concern. To address these issues in support of a more equitable system, ALLEA has established a dedicated Task Force consisting of some of Europe’s leading experts on the topic. 

At present, academic researchers and small breeders are concerned they are unable to fully benefit from these powerful technologies as they are typically being patented and monopolized by a number of big multinational companies. In addition, because the changes introduced by NGTs can often not be distinguished from those created by conventional methods, traditional breeders are concerned they might unwilfully infringe a patent that protects a variety they were developing over many years by traditional breeding techniques.  

In summary, the current EU patent and licensing system can be considered a clear competitive disadvantage for academic researchers and smaller breeders, and its complexity creates uncertainty for those willing to use NGTs and their products. The new ALLEA Task Force will therefore explore the central question:

How can we ensure that European researchers, small/traditional breeders, and farmers can avoid the unwilful infringement of patents and fully benefit from New Genomic Techniques and their products?

The Task Force met online for the first time on Tuesday 15 November 2022, and intends to present its findings and recommendations in an ALLEA Statement aimed at breeders, researchers, and national and EU policymakers. Several potential solutions will be explored, ranging from promoting increased transparency and skills to navigate existing patents and licences to possible recommendations for reforming the European patent system. The Task Force will listen to a variety of perspectives, including those from patent holders, small breeders, and NGOs, in their search for solutions that support a more equitable and balanced system. 

For detailed information on the Task Force’s composition, see the dedicated webpage.

“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.

Europe Needs More Strategic Crisis Management, Academies Advise European Commission

Europe’s academies and networks played a central role in the scientific advice on crisis management handed to European Commissioners today in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

At the Commission’s request, independent experts from SAPEA, which is part of the Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism, presented an Evidence Review Report to Commissioners Gabriel and Lenarčič. This report contains the latest scientific evidence and evidence-based policy options on how the EU can improve its strategic crisis management which informed the Scientific Opinion of the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors.

ALLEA President and Chair of the SAPEA Board, Antonio Loprieno, says that “we gathered the best scientists from around Europe to provide an interdisciplinary report on crisis management“. This report will be the basis not only for quality policy proposals, but also for much further academic work on the topic, Loprieno added.

The Evidence Review Report by SAPEA, which draft was coordinated by ALLEA, highlights that strategic crisis management needs to be aligned with broader policy objectives: “Crises are becoming the norm, not the exception. The strategic decisions we make during crises shape our society in the long run” says the Chair of the SAPEA working group, Prof. Tina Comes.

The report also stresses that crises are changing in nature, crossing borders and sectors, and having cascading and overlapping effects on society, the economy, and the environment. They amplify inequalities and hit the most vulnerable the hardest. Therefore, the EU needs to rethink approaches to risk and crisis management.

The Group of Chief Scientific Advisors are seven eminent scientists who advise European Commissioners on big societal challenges informed by SAPEA’s scientific evidence. Among others, the advisors make the following recommendations:

  • The EU should plan and prepare for the entire timescale of crises, from preparedness to response and recovery.
  • The EU should create stronger synergies across European institutions and between European Institutions and Member States; the Emergency Response and Coordination Centre could play a larger role in facilitating the exchange of information and needs.
  • To increase the EU’s resilience, the Advisors advocate for more scalable, rapidly deployable, and efficient EU financial tools.
  • Decision-makers at all levels should also work closely with civil society and the private sector. 

Alongside scientific reports, the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies published a statement that highlights that the fundamental European value of solidarity is essential. Solidarity can be a guiding principle for overcoming crises and strengthening societal resilience.

The launch of these publications is followed by the webinar Entangled Crisis: How Can the EU Help? on Thursday 24 November, 10:00 CET. Registrations are still open here.

Download all publications here