Permanent Working Group on Science and Ethics Meeting

Members of ALLEA Permanent Working Group on Science and Ethics meet in September 2022.

New Report Explores the Ethics of Digital eXtended Reality, Neurotechnologies, and Climate Engineering

TechEthos project publishes two analyses of the ethics and laws applicable to the three technology families under study

In June 2022, TechEthos (Ethics for Technologies with High Socio-Economic Impact), a Horizon 2020-funded project, published a draft report on the ethical issues that need to be considered for the three technology families under study:

  • Digital eXtended Reality, including the techniques of visually eXtended Reality (XR) and the techniques of Natural Language Processing (NLP)
  • Neurotechnologies
  • Climate Engineering, including Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and Solar Radiation Management (SRM)

The report, co-authored by tech ethicist Laurynas Adomaitis and physicist Alexei Grinbaum at the Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique et aux Énergies Alternatives (CEA), along with Dominic Lenzi from the University of Twente (TU), is currently under review by the European Commission. It is based on literature studies, original research, expert consultation, and digital ethnographies.

TechEthos

Source: TechEthos Report on the Analysis of Ethical Issues

In addition to briefly describing the technologies in each family, the report identifies core ethical dilemmas, describes key applications and case studies, and identifies ethical values and principles in line with the “ethics by design” (the implementation of ethical, legal, and societal values and principles from the conception to implementation stages of technology design) methodology, provides operational checks and balances for each value/principle in the form of questions, and outlines mitigations strategies for the same.

The 142-page report is structured into four chapters, which include an introduction into technology ethics and cross-cutting issues in the three technology families, and a deep-dive into each one. Some examples of the ethical issues unique to the different technologies include:

  • The impact of digital eXtended Reality on the values and principles of transparency, dignity, privacy, non-manipulation, and responsibility, as well as their relevance for the analysis of risk reduction, environmental impact, dual use and misuse, gender bias, and power and labour relations
  • The lack of human-like reasoning or understanding in NLP systems, spontaneous anthropomorphisation of chatbots, and the influence of artificial emotions on human users
  • The impact of neurotechnologies on the values and principles of autonomy, responsibility, privacy, risk reduction, and informed consent
  • The potential for less costly, but less effective climate engineering solutions to divert resources away from more sustainable, but more expensive initiatives
  • The potential for climate engineering to be more wasteful

Beyond the well-researched and in-depth analysis of the conceptual arguments, there are also helpful use cases and questions that stakeholders can ask when dealing with the ethics of the technologies in each family.

Analysis of international and EU law and policy applied to Digital eXtended Reality, Neurotechnologies, and Climate Engineering

In July 2022, following the analysis of the ethical dilemmas inherent to each technology family studied by TechEthos, a second draft report was published, which delved into the international and EU laws and policies for their relevance and applicability to Digital eXtended Reality, Neurotechnologies, and Climate Engineering. Although there is no dedicated EU or international law governing these three technology families, there do exist several legal frameworks that could be applied to them.

The report serves to review these legal domains and related obligations at international and EU levels, identifies the potential implications for fundamental rights and principles of democracy and rule of law, and reflects on issues and challenges of existing legal frameworks to address current and future implications of the technologies. The 242-page report covers human rights law, rules on state responsibility, environmental law, climate law, space law, law of the seas, and the law related to artificial intelligence (AI), digital services and data governance, among others as they apply to the three technology families.

The report was co-authored by Nicole Santiago, Ben Howkins, Julie Vinders, Rowena Rodrigues, and Zuzanna Warso from Trilateral Research (TRI), Michael Bernstein from the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, and Gustavo Gonzalez and Andrea Porcari from the Associazione Italiana per la Ricerca Industriale (Airi). It aims to present an evidence base for the TechEthos project’s development of recommendations for policy and legal reform, and is currently being reviewed by the European Commission.

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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.

European Science Organisations Reach Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment

Following a six-month collaborative process involving more than 350 European organisations from over 40 countries, an Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment has been reached and made public today. ALLEA has contributed to the Agreement as part of a core group of 20 research organisations that supported the drafting team throughout the process.

The Agreement summarises a shared vision on how to reform assessment practices for researchers, research projects and research performing organisations, with overarching principles founded on quality, impact, diversity, inclusiveness, and collaboration.

The envisioned reforms are centred around the following four core commitments:

  1. Recognise the diversity of contributions to, and careers in, research in accordance with the needs and nature of the research
  2. Base research assessment primarily on qualitative evaluation for which peer review is central, supported by responsible use of quantitative indicators
  3. Abandon inappropriate uses in research assessment of journal- and publication-based metrics, in particular inappropriate uses of Journal Impact Factor (JIF) and h-index
  4. Avoid the use of rankings of research organisations in research assessment

Several additional supporting commitments aim to enable the move towards new research assessment criteria, tools and processes, and to facilitate mutual learning, communicate progress and ensure that new approaches are evidence informed. The Agreement further includes anticipated timeframes for implementing the reforms and evaluating progress and describes the operational structures for a coalition of organisations devoted to working together to implement the changes.

Next Steps

The collection of signatures to join the Coalition supporting the Agreement will be launched on 28 September 2022 at the EU Research and Innovation Days. A General Assembly of Coalition members will further decide on the governance of the Coalition, the strategy guiding the operations and activities of the Coalition as a whole, its annual work-plan and budget. The first General Assembly is expected to take place towards the end of this year.

As a European umbrella organisation of academies of sciences and humanities, ALLEA was able to provide an interdisciplinary perspective based on shared European academic values. ALLEA contributed to the Agreement through its Permanent Working Group on Science & Ethics and the Working Group European Research Area. Previously, ALLEA had also worked with the Global Young Academy on recommendations on the topic.

In a parallel endeavour, the Council of the European Union has recently adopted its Conclusions on Research Assessment and Implementation of Open Science. ALLEA welcomes the principles set out in the Conclusions for designing novel approaches to research assessment and emphasises that there is no “one-size-fits-all” format: any reforms should be driven by researchers taking responsibility for improving research assessment in their communities, following the core concept of self-regulation set out in the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity. (Read ALLEA’s full response here)

More information

  • The complete Agreement for Reforming Research Assessment can be found here, as well as an overview of frequently asked questions regarding the Agreement and the Coalition.
  • Further information on the drafting process and the actors involved can be found here.

ALLEA Welcomes Council Conclusions on Research Assessment and Open Science

ALLEA welcomes the adoption of the Conclusions on Research Assessment and Implementation of Open Science by the Council of the European Union on 10 June. See ALLEA’s full response here.

The Conclusions are in agreement with points that ALLEA has made over the years, in particular on the necessity of appropriately implementing and rewarding open science practices and the development of research assessment criteria that follow principles of excellence, research integrity and trustworthy science.

At the same time, ALLEA continues to stress that it matters how we open knowledge, as the push for Open Access publishing has also paved the way for various unethical publishing practices. The inappropriate use of journal- and publication-based metrics in funding, hiring and promotion decisions has been one of the obstacles in the transition to a more open science, and furthermore fails to recognize and reward the diverse set of competencies, activities, and outputs needed for our research ecosystem to flourish.

ALLEA therefore welcomes the principles set out in the Conclusion for designing novel approaches to research assessment, with particular weight on recognizing (1) the critical role for peer review in research assessment and (2) the importance of integrity and ethics in developing criteria focused on quality and impact. 

ALLEA underscores that the described reforms are urgently needed and require concerted efforts from the international academic community, supported by infrastructures for exchanging best practices as well as the necessary financial resources to implement these. 

Read ALLEA’s full response

ALLEA Joins the European Commission Coalition on Research Assessment Reform

ALLEA has joined the European Commission’s core group working on reforming research assessment. The group will support the drafting of an agreement led by the European University Association, Science Europe and the European Commission on key issues and timelines for implementing changes.

The coalition is composed by funding organisations, research performing organisations, national/regional assessment authorities or agencies, associations of research funders, of research performers, of researchers, as well as learned societies and other relevant organisations.

ALLEA is represented by Deborah Oughton, member of the ALLEA Permanent Group Science and Ethics and representative of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. She is a Professor at the Environmental Sciences and Natural Resource Management Faculty of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

Towards a Research Assessment Reform

In 2021, the European Commission published the scoping report ‘Towards a reform of the research assessment system’. The publication presents the findings from a consultation with European research stakeholders and identifies the goals that should be pursued with a reform of research assessment. The report proposes a coordinated approach based on principles and actions that could be agreed upon by a coalition of research funding and research performing organisations committed to implement changes.

Research assessment reform is one of the topics ALLEA has worked jointly with its Member Academies and partners in recent years. In July 2021, ALLEA and the Global Young Academy (GYA) published a report covering the key takeaways of their webinar ‘Research Assessments that Promote Scholarly Progress and Reinforce the Contract with Society’. The event brought together science and policy stakeholders to rethink current research assessment models.

The key areas for research assessment identified by the stakeholders were how to strike a balance between funding of research to advance scientific progress and public accountability, how to assess the societal relevance of research and who defines the criteria, and how research assessment should be done.

In 2020, ALLEA, the Global Young Academy and STM (International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers) organised a series of workshops about the future of peer review in scholarly communications. A short summary report is available here.

ALLEA-GYA Event Report on Research Assessment Published

ALLEA and the Global Young Academy (GYA) have published a report covering the key takeaways of their webinar ‘Research Assessments that Promote Scholarly Progress and Reinforce the Contract with Society’. The event brought together science and policy stakeholders to rethink current research assessment models.

The report tackles three main questions debated by presenter Ellen Hazelkorn (BH Associates) and discussants Kostas Glinos (European Commission), Michael Hill (DORA Steering Committee), and Martin Dominik (Global Young Academy):

  • How can we strike a balance between funding of research to advance scientific progress in itself on the one hand, and public accountability in terms of societally relevant research on the other when assessing research?
  • How can the societal relevance of research best be assessed and who defines the criteria?
  • How should research assessment be done?

Among other messages, the report underlines that:

  • All research that significantly adds to the scholarly record holds the potential of being translated into concrete value for society sooner or later, although not necessarily by those who originally carried out that research.
  • Societal accountability covers a wide sphere of impact, hence there is a need to include researchers from the social sciences and people with expertise on social impact, as well as co-expertise between researchers and lay-people.
  • Meaningful assessments will need to respect and be tailored to a specific context, provide an answer to a concrete question, and meet the aim of the assessment.

The report is based on a webinar held on 25 November 2020 and moderated by Roger Pfister (Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences). The video can be watched on ALLEA’s YouTube channel. The work was led by the ALLEA Permanent Working Group Science and Ethics.

This project is part of a strategic partnership between ALLEA and the GYA, which seeks to strengthen cross-border collaboration between researchers from different age groups, disciplines and career stages. Building on and further consolidating existing forms of cooperation, both organisations aimed to analyse and rethink current research assessment models, as well as scientific publication and peer-review practices.

Download Event Report

European Union Flag

Call for Membership – European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies

The European Commission has opened the public Call for Membership of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies, the independent advisory body established by the President of the Commission.  It is tasked with addressing all aspects of Commission policies and legislation where ethical, societal and fundamental rights dimensions intersect with the development of science and new technologies.

Since its inception in 1991, the EGE has provided the Commission with high quality and independent advice on manifold ethical issues. In the last three years, advice was provided on topics such as artificial intelligence (2018), the future of work (2018), COVID-19 and health crises (2020) and genome editing (forthcoming).

In addition to professional expertise, members should have a high motivation to serve the mandate of the EGE, be able and willing to provide wisdom, foresight and vision, to take the time to engage in in-depth collective ethical discussion in regular meetings in Brussels and online, to devise and draft analyses and recommendations, to build working relationships of trust and collaboration and to serve independently of other interests. They should offer a broad understanding of current and emerging ethical developments, including an understanding of the role and future of ethics in the EU context, combined with the capacity to engage with inter-, trans- and multi-disciplinary perspectives when addressing contemporary ethical dilemmas.

Interested individuals are invited to submit their application by 22 March 2021 (12:00 noon CET).

Read the full call

New ALLEA Working Group Chairs on Science & Ethics and E-Humanities

Two new chairs have been elected in ALLEA’s working groups. In the Permanent Working Group Science and Ethics, Dr Maura Hiney (Royal Irish Academy) is taking over from Prof Göran Hermerén (Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities), who held the role since 2012. The E-Humanities Working Group elected Dr Maciej Maryl (Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences), who succeeds Dr Natalie Harrower (Royal Irish Academy).

Dr Hiney has a PhD in Molecular Diagnostics and Epizootology from the National University of Ireland Galway. She has previously been a member of the working group and was lead author of the revised European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity in 2017. She is currently Head of Post-Award and Evaluation at the Health Research Board Ireland.

After being appointed Dr Hiney said: “Becoming Chair of this Working Group is an honour that presents me with a fantastic opportunity to build awareness and policy visibility across Europe and within the European Commission about issues of ethics and research integrity that impact the quality and credibility of the rich outputs of the research community. Such trust in science by policymakers and the public is more important now than ever before.’’ 

Furthermore, Dr Maryl, PhD, is assistant professor at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences and founding Director of the Digital Humanities Centre at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He is a literary scholar, sociologist and a translator.

ALLEA warmly thanks Prof Hermerén and Dr Harrower for their long-standing commitment and service to their working groups.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is new in the revised Code of Conduct?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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