Responsible Innovations Will Lead The Transformation In Saving Our Planet

By SalM on April 26, 2021 in News

The Earth Day was conceptualized by a group of environmentalists more than five decades ago with the primary goal of protecting and preserving our natural resources, wildlife, fauna and the biodiversity of our planet. They started with a mission to create awareness and collaborate with governments, experts and researchers, industries and the people in general to address the devastation caused to our planet, each year.
Experts estimate that up to 17 million square miles of land worldwide have been altered by humans for cultivation and then abandoned.
There are multiple reasons for the damage that is created, which has resulted in the imbalance of marine life, climate change, rising temperatures, locust attacks, earthquakes and hurricanes and poor quality of crops across the globe. It took until the year 2015 to establish the Paris Agreement which is a legally binding international treaty on climate change, where-in 196 nations agreed unanimously to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. But would this commitment be enough?

Limiting the carbon emissions and amount of industrial waste being discarded into the oceans may have had its impacts but surely not enough as it is still adding to the already deteriorating situation. This year the Earth Day is dedicated to ponder on this very phenomenon that while we are taking steps to restrict pollution, we also need to restore the damage caused. And this is where research and innovation need to play a leadership role rather than be a follower.

Industrialization, construction and de-plantation have contributed to the damage of natural resources and the quality of biodiversity. It is important that we invest in not just protecting it but also restoring it to its earlier levels. Research has proved that there are alternative ways to de-carbonize the industrial waste, regenerative farming that can help restore the impairment of the land and alternative fuels to help bring down the emissions.
Academicians and experts now believe that one of the critical catalysts to restore the imbalance is finding alternatives and solutions to our existing methods. The recycling of lithium-ion batteries is one such example. Recycling spent batteries instead of discarding them into landfills is a sustainable solution to reduce the damage to human health and the environment.  In recent times, adopting Aeroponics as a farming method is also gaining steam, as it allows the earth to recuperate and regenerate its nutritional and mineral properties.

Green investments made today to enable a “Green Economy” can help us restore the levels of oxygen in the air, and help attain stable temperatures. Governments and corporations will have to come together to invest in reinstating degraded lands from decades of farming and find alternatives. Regenerative farming can help this initiative with proven results. Methodological investments into Habitat Restoration divided in Land, Water and Wetland will aid in gaining results.

Technology will play a key role in finding long term sustainable solutions to minimize the damage caused; R&D and Technology – for a Sustainable world, though has to be embedded into the social, political and industrial fabric. What we need is a sociotechnical change where there is a burning desire, resolute will; a cultural adoption of the fresh attitudes towards environment conservation, backed by not just rhetoric but by the implementation of Science based Technology methods for Transformation.

Contributions of Women The Contributions of Women in Science During COVID-19

By SalM on April 22, 2021 in COVID-19, Women in Research

The United Nations observed the sixth International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The sciences still have a severe underrepresentation of women and girls. Women and girls also face more barriers in the field of science due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless, they have made important contributions to the fight against COVID-19. The contributions of women also highlight the importance of science and gender equality for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Gender Disparities in the Sciences

About 40% of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce is made up of women, the majority of whom work in healthcare. Engineering and technology fields still have an underrepresentation of women. Gender gaps in the sciences form from an early age due to many factors such as socioeconomic status, gender bias and stereotypes as well as the lack of role models in those fields. When girls receive the same exposure to science and technology as boys do, girls have the potential to achieve similar or higher proficiency levels.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many setbacks for women in STEM and in general. Many adolescent girls had to drop out of school to take on household responsibilities. As schools and childcare facilities remain closed, women scientists have to take on the bulk of childcare duties and are limited in the number of projects they can take on and in their research time. This then limits how much they can advance in their careers.

International Day of Women and Girls in Science

In February 2015, the Royal Academy of Science International Trust (RASIT) and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) organized the first High-Level World Women’s Health and Development Forum, which is when the idea for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science first came about.

Two months after the forum ended, the executive director of RASIT, HRH Princess Dr. Nisreen El-Hashemite, who is often affectionately referred to as the “Science Princess,” wrote a letter to the 69th president of the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of all those in attendance at the forum. She called for February 11 to be declared the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

RASIT collaborated closely with the Permanent Mission of Malta for the United Nations and the Maltan government to write a resolution that would include this day in the U.N. official Calendar of Observances. In December 2015, women in the sciences watched as the General Assembly adopted the resolution that made the International Day of Women and Girls in Science official.

Contributions of Women to COVID-19 Response

For this year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, U.N. Women spotlighted women who have made significant contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic. It notes that 70% of all healthcare and social workers are women. These women are working on the frontlines of the pandemic, risking their lives every single day to treat patients. Women have also been at the forefront of COVID-19 vaccine development.

  • Özlem Türeci is a scientist and physician and co-founder of BioNTech, the first company to develop an RNA-based vaccine for COVID-19. Katalin Karikó’s discovery of the therapeutic possibilities of mRNA made this development possible.
  • Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett is a vital member of the U.S. government’s vaccine research, working on the team that developed a vaccine that is more than 90% effective. Additionally, a 14-year-old girl, Anika Chebrolu, identified a lead molecule that can selectively bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19. This discovery could potentially inhibit COVID-19.
  • Furthermore, Thai digital product designer and front-end developer, Ramida Juengpaisal, created a tracker containing vital information about COVID-19, which helps to stop the spread of misinformation.
  • Lastly, to help people affected by domestic violence and abuse during stay-at-home orders, Megs Shah and Fairuz Ahmed founded the Parasol Cooperative. The Parasol Cooperative connects survivors and at-risk individuals with the necessary services.

Science and Gender Equality and the SDGs

Science and gender equality are important parts of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The partnership between RASIT, the government of Malta and the Permanent Mission of Malta is a perfect example of SDG 17 in action, strengthening global partnerships for the purpose of sustainable development. Many of the targets of SDG 4, ensuring quality education for all, are related to ensuring that both genders have the same educational opportunities from early childhood and beyond. SDG 5 calls for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

From affordable and clean energy (SDG 7) to conserving life below water and on land (SDGs 14 and 15), the SDGs all have science and technology woven into them. Inclusive societies that prioritize women steer technological and scientific innovation. Recognizing the contributions of women through International Day of Women and Girls in Science will encourage more women to join the field.

How Open Access to Journals Helps Students and Researchers

By SalM on April 14, 2021 in News

Over the past decade, there has been a rising clamour for more accessibility of scholarly journals. Those available in print are subscription based making it challenging for other researchers to access, verify, reproduce, cite or utilise research papers, further resulting in restricting the community from engaging in multiple aspects of research.

With technological advancement, students and researchers no longer have to sift through piles of physical research papers and journals. While the print form of such resources is still relevant in this digital era, online infrastructure has made these resources more accessible. Considering the present crisis, many institutions are setting up repositories or open access platforms to make paywalled research papers accessible across the globe. The Open Access platforms have become a movement around the world.

Increased accessibility

Usually in the publishing industry, ownership of the research work (known as copyright) stays with the publisher. This results in lower accessibility, as scholarly information can be accessed only by paying a subscription fee to the journal. This tends to limit the access of institutions and individuals with fewer funds.

Today, the open access model works differently from the traditional subscription-based model. It makes scholarly information available to the community at no cost. Numerous studies also show that such articles receive greater citations than other publications that are behind the paywall. Many high-tech platforms use the self-archiving mode, also known as Green Open Access, to make paywalled resources available.

According to industry data, around 81% of publishers formally allow some form of self-archiving in Open Access knowledge repositories. Estimates shared by Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), Europe, show that almost35% to 600% increase in citability can be seen by adapting and promoting the usage of Green Open Access.

Lower processing charges

Publishing costs are usually high based on the publisher’s choice and the journal’s reputation. prestige of the journal. Also, articles published exclusively in journals become the sole point of access for readers. This results in a higher cost of subscription for print publications. As per recent estimates, the subscription cost of journals has increased by 250% in the past 30 years.

To overcome the cost barrier, authors are finding better routes to get their research published in journals that require lower or almost zero cost. Open Access platforms integrated with AI are gaining huge popularity due to their publishing models. Since there is no print copy, the entire processing in open access journals is cost-effective. It also eliminates the cost of typesetting, and expenditure on dissemination that benefits authors as well as readers.

Improved visibility

Print publications have comparatively lesser visibility than digital media. One of the biggest contributing factors to increased visibility of open access papers is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Open access papers can be indexed at many platforms with good viewership on the Internet and search engine bots get far more meta data about the article and helps them to rank better for keywords.

Tips to optimise article for wider reach

Authors can add relevant keywords to the abstract and the complete content. This will lead the search engine to use various algorithms and processes to find the article relevant to a particular search query and showcases it on top of the results page.

They should also choose a short, descriptive title for their work that a potential reader can easily find online.

The presence of social media makes sharing research work further adding to its visibility.

Covid-19: What Are The Consequences Of The Unprecedented Rush For Knowledge?

By SalM on April 4, 2021 in COVID-19

Typically, the time between a research paper being submitted to an academic journal and it being published is 3-4 months. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many researchers have turned to preprint servers to make their work publicly available immediately, before peer review.

Despite the increase in early-career biomedical researchers supporting the use of preprint servers before the pandemic to gain timely recognition of their work, this field has been particularly slow in embracing these publications. Unlike physics, only a minority of all articles in life sciences and medicine are preprinted. This reluctance can be explained, at least in part, by the potential of flawed research leading to changes in clinical practice that could harm patients.

Since January 2020, around 30,000 preprints on COVID-19 have been published. Overall, only around 20%, of these preprints have been converted into peer-reviewed articles. This is mainly due to the time it takes to carry out peer review. The percentage goes up to about 50% when looking only at preprints that appeared in January-February.

Publishers have embarked in various initiatives to speed up the peer review process. These include the COVID-19 rapid review initiative, which allows the transfer of referee reports and articles between journals owned by different publishers, and developing online platforms that enable researchers to review each other’s work openly, such as Rapid Reviews: COVID-19 by MIT press.

Some publishers have also been able to invest in staff and/or artificial intelligence (AI) functionality to accelerate peer review and increase their output. This may not necessarily be beneficial.

Peer review isn’t perfect. It can fail to identify weaknesses or in some cases major flaws in a paper, resulting in a retraction. To date, Retraction Watch lists contains 37 retracted COVID-19 papers, including a couple in very prominent journals on the safety of malaria drugs and blood pressure medications for treatingCOVID-19 patients.

“There are lots of little changes we can make to raise the overall quality of the review system and of the outputs,” says Adam Marcus. He thinks that journals should be more diligent in checking reviewer suggestions made by authors (to make sure they’re real people and/or don’t have conflicts of interest with the authors themselves), and in detecting image manipulations or flawed statistical methods before papers are published rather than after.

According to Ludo Waltman, COVID-19 is changing the way we assess scientific literature: “The pandemic is forcing everyone, … researchers, journalists, policymakers to … gradually move away from the dichotomy between research in journals, that has been peer reviewed and is supposed to be reliable, and other types of work that don’t have this ‘stamp of approval’.”

Rather, readers face a continuum: from really low-quality research that hasn’t gone through any form of quality control at one extreme, to work that has been through a thorough peer review at the other, with research in journals that carry out a more superficial peer review and preprints that have benefitted from a certain level of quality control and expert feedback in between.

“We are still in the process of developing clear markers that inform researchers (and the public at large) about the level of trust you can have on a research output. We need to find a language that is easily understood, by doctors, journalists, policymakers…, and conveys different levels of soundness or trust you can have in the findings,” he explains.

“Further understanding of how research is organised and published will inform better ways of disseminating the information to different sectors of society,” says Waltman. And, as Marcus points out, electing politicians who value science and expertise is crucial for putting the emerging knowledge about COVID-19 into practice effectively.

Written by Monica Hoyos Flight.

This article has originally been published by the European Science and Media Hub and it is accessible here.

Cantabria becomes a territory where responsible research will be practiced

By SalM on March 31, 2021 in News

Cantabrian Government has informed through its official website that this week will see the start of the TetRRIS project (Territorial Responsible Research and Innovation and Smart Specialization) on its territory. It will be conducted through SODERCAN, a public enterprise that is responsible for regional development in the Spanish autonomous community.

The first phase of the pilot project (fully financed by the European Commission) will focus on researching relevant stakeholders but comparisons will be constantly evaluated against the results from three other European regions, which are expected to be created as part of the project: Tampere (Finland), Karlsruhe (Germany) and Szeged-Timisoara (Hungary and Romania).

The focus here is on Responsible Research and Innovation

Innovation in all walks of life is one of these buzzwords that get minds thinking, people talking and administrations funding. In a way, it has always been part of human history and progress and today this is no different. However, in the past decade, there has been a concerted effort to think about the ethical, moral, legal and social implications of conducting research and innovation.

The European Commission took notice of that and decided to insist that research and innovation will be conducted in a responsible manner and that this becomes standardized before it can lend its support behind new initiatives. In that way, Responsible Research and Innovation, or RRI, was born as a term and also as an idea that will have to be taken into account when designing such processes.

In Cantabria, for example, it was announced that the first phase of TetRRIS will involve the conducting of in-depth interviews with different actors, such as clusters, CEOE-CEPYME, regional universities, CTC Technological Centre and start-ups in order to map out the profile of the innovation ecosystem in the region.

The authorities would like to first find out what these actors think the challenges are ahead of them and what they think will be the social implications of their research and innovations for the citizens.

International science cooperation must continue beyond COVID-19

By SalM on March 29, 2021 in News

The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the power of open global research collaboration and this lesson must live on to help address other pressing global issues, says OECD.

“We sit here, and we say this worked well for an experiment. The question is whether or not we need to scale this up,” said Andrew Wyckoff, director of the OECD’s directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation.

During the pandemic, some of the most effective means for coordinating research have been international initiatives, such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which funded initial research on a number of different vaccines. “These platforms have led to culminations we could not have anticipated before,” said Wyckoff.

In an unprecedented global effort, the OECD estimates around $7.5 billion was raised for COVID-19 R&D by the end of last summer, of which around $2 billion was channelled through international initiatives.

While these initiatives were effective in the crisis, many remain underfunded and rely on philanthropic institutions such as the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, and a handful of countries, for financing. To deal with future pandemics and other pressing issues, such as climate change, governments should provide more support.

The global research effort saw a total of 75,000 scientific papers on the virus published by November, over three quarters of which are open access. The scale of publications is another major achievement underwritten by the openness of COVID-19 research. The rapid response was built on the fact that the genome of the virus was sequenced and the results were instantly made public.

The crisis has been a journey of data, notes Wyckoff. He suggests that going forward, the publication of datasets should be incentivised as much as publishing scientific papers. They should be seen as equal contributions.

In Wyckoff’s view, the role China played in pandemic-related research affirmed the country as a global player. China is now the second largest R&D funder in the world and has been developing closer ties to the US, which was reflected in the COVID-19 co-publication patterns.

This has happened at a time when there is creeping resistance to international collaboration, with more demands for reciprocity, and, said Wyckoff, “what we heard in Europe – a growing cry for technology sovereignty.”

Moves to protectionist policies and increasing demands for reciprocity could endanger international collaboration. To avoid this, governments should work on ensuring a level playing field for scientific cooperation, and building trust. For the US, this also means being more open to China, Wyckoff said.

New challenges

Beyond the pandemic, promoting a transition to more sustainable societies will demand massive research firepower. Drawing on the lessons of the crisis, the OECD says governments should rethink science policies and equip themselves with the right instruments to deliver the transition to greener and more resilient societies.

Open and collaborative research with players from around the globe is one piece of the puzzle. Another is taking a multi-disciplinary approach. Complex problems, such as COVID-19 and the green transition, require inputs from many different areas of research, but current R&D policies around the globe are ill-equipped to support this.

At the same time, the way governments fund research should be rethought too. First, it is not all about the money. There is a different between leveraging mechanisms and “releasing the floodgates of funding,” according to Marjorie Blumenthal, senior policy researcher at the US think tank RAND Corporation.

For example, governments may need to rethink how they incentivise business to invest in R&D. Tax incentives are becoming the dominant form of encouraging research in the private sector in most OECD countries, making up 55% of government support in 2017. While tax breaks encourage companies to innovate, they are often untargeted. Long-term, green, and often high risk innovation is better supported with direct grants, OECD believes.

But this will require governments to reverse an age-old trend. Grants, unlike taxes, are tied to the budget. In times of economic downturn, when austerity kicks in and government debt grows, direct funding is typically reduced while tax incentives grow, says Wyckoff.

In the end, funding is not everything. Support for open and international research is the key priority. “To me it’s a little bit less about the money and more about the attitude on new ways going forward,” said Wyckoff.


European Commission Launches Open Access Platform for Scientific Papers

By SalM on March 26, 2021 in News

The European Commission launched Open Research Europe, a publishing platform for scientific papers that will be accessible to everyone. The platform will present the results of research funded by Horizon Europe, the EU research and innovation programme for 2021-2027, and its predecessor, Horizon 2020.

Open Research Europe will give everyone, researchers and citizens alike, free-of-charge access to the latest scientific discoveries. It directly addresses major difficulties often associated with publishing scientific results, including delays and barriers to the re-use of results and high costs. The platform is an optional service for Horizon Europe and Horizon 2020 beneficiaries so that they can comply with their funding requirements for immediate open access, at no cost to them.

Approximately 40 scientific papers from very diverse fields of research have already been submitted and are available for the scientific community to read and review.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth said: “We need to accelerate scientific discovery through more collaborative and open research practices. By helping researchers to publish in open access, Open Research Europe removes the barriers to knowledge flows and cultivates scientific debate. This is just the beginning. We will gradually build the reputation of the platform as the publishing venue of choice for the researchers of Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe, and ensure it becomes deeply embedded in the European Research Area.”

Supporting open science and transparency in the scientific publishing process

In the Communication ‘A new ERA for Research and Innovation’, the Commission introduces Open Research Europe as an open access publishing platform for the publication of research stemming from Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe funding across all subject areas in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as social sciences, arts and the humanities.

Open Research Europe will not only contribute to open, fast and cost-efficient scientific publications. It will also make it easy for beneficiaries of Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe to comply with the relevant open access terms of their funding: immediate open access, as required by Horizon Europe and automatic submission in a general purpose repository (for comparison, Horizon 2020 permitted a 6-12 month embargo period). Open Research Europe will offer researchers a publishing venue to share their results and insights rapidly, and facilitate open, constructive research debates. The platform features a wide range of metrics to measure the scientific and social impact of articles and provide information of their use and re-use.

In taking up a new role, the Commission intends to lead by example in actively supporting open science practices and promoting transparency in the publishing process. It aims at inspiring other funders, in particular at national level, to do the same. By integrating Open Research Europe into Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe the Commission is bringing innovative solutions in scholarly communication to the next level.


Currently, 91% of all publications and 95% of all peer-reviewed publications funded by Horizon 2020 are open access, extremely high percentages globally. Nonetheless, the ambition is that all scholarly publications stemming from the research funding of the Commission are open access. In particular, the aim for Horizon Europe is that publications will be openly accessible from the moment they are published, which the platform enables.

Open science is an approach based on open cooperative work and systematic sharing of knowledge and tools as early and widely as possible in the research process.  It makes research and innovation systems more efficient and creative, and reinforces excellence and society’s trust in science. This is because opening and sharing research results and data, making them re-usable and reproducible, and having access to research infrastructures provide the basis for peer scrutiny and scholarly debate, which ensure quality and efficiency in taking research reflections, analysis and innovation further.

The EU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has shown the potential of open science to increase collaboration, illustrating how immediate open access to publications and data has been crucial in helping researchers to find new treatments, diagnostics and vaccines. Open Research Europe is taking the next step in this process.


How Science Beat the Virus

By SalM on March 25, 2021 in COVID-19

In fall of 2019, exactly zero scientists were studying COVID‑19, because no one knew the disease existed. The coronavirus that causes it, SARS‑CoV‑2, had only recently jumped into humans and had been neither identified nor named. But by the end of March 2020, it had spread to more than 170 countries, sickened more than 750,000 people, and triggered the biggest pivot in the history of modern science. Thousands of researchers dropped whatever intellectual puzzles had previously consumed their curiosity and began working on the pandemic instead. In mere months, science became thoroughly COVID-ized.

Much like famous initiatives such as the Manhattan Project and the Apollo program, epidemics focus the energies of large groups of scientists. In the U.S., the influenza pandemic of 1918, the threat of malaria in the tropical battlegrounds of World War II, and the rise of polio in the postwar years all triggered large pivots. Recent epidemics of Ebola and Zika each prompted a temporary burst of funding and publications.

In a survey of 2,500 researchers in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, Kyle Myers from Harvard and his team found that 32 percent had shifted their focus toward the pandemic. Neuroscientists who study the sense of smell started investigating why COVID‑19 patients tend to lose theirs. Physicists who had previously experienced infectious diseases only by contracting them found themselves creating models to inform policy makers. Michael D. L. Johnson at the University of Arizona normally studies copper’s toxic effects on bacteria. But when he learned that SARS‑CoV‑2 persists for less time on copper surfaces than on other materials, he partially pivoted to see how the virus might be vulnerable to the metal. No other disease has been scrutinized so intensely, by so much combined intellect, in so brief a time.

But the COVID‑19 pivot has also revealed the all-too-human frailties of the scientific enterprise. Flawed research made the pandemic more confusing, influencing misguided policies. Clinicians wasted millions of dollars on trials that were so sloppy as to be pointless. Overconfident poseurs published misleading work on topics in which they had no expertise. Racial and gender inequalities in the scientific field widened.

Open data sets and sophisticated new tools to manipulate them have made today’s researchers more flexible. SARS‑CoV‑2’s genome was decoded and shared by Chinese scientists just 10 days after the first cases were reported. By November, more than 197,000 SARS‑CoV‑2 genomes had been sequenced. About 90 years ago, no one had even seen an individual virus; today, scientists have reconstructed the shape of SARS‑CoV‑2 down to the position of individual atoms. Researchers have begun to uncover how SARS‑CoV‑2 compares with other coronaviruses in wild bats, the likely reservoir; how it infiltrates and co-opts our cells; how the immune system overreacts to it, creating the symptoms of COVID‑19. “We’re learning about this virus faster than we’ve ever learned about any virus in history,” Sabeti said.

EU Considers Tougher Rules to Promote Gender Equality in Horizon Europe

By SalM on March 24, 2021 in News, Women in Research

Excellence and impact will be the main criteria in evaluating proposals, but in case of a tie, gender balance in research groups will swing it. All institutions awarded grants must have published gender equality plans – and show they are implementing them.

The European Commission is weighing up whether to add tougher rules to promote gender equality in research grant contracts awarded in the imminent Horizon Europe R&D programme, according to leaked draft planning documents.

The plan – which is still subject to revision – would for the first time make gender balance in research groups a possible tie-breaker when deciding among competing applications. The main criteria for evaluating proposals remains research excellence and impact. But for proposals with the same score, gender balance between researchers and staff named in the proposal could be the deciding factor.

Under the plan, the Commission would also require all public sector organisations to have published formal gender equality plans, and produce evidence to show plans are being implemented.

The ideas fit into a broader effort to push for greater gender equality across all EU programmes. But in the case of research, leaked drafts of the plan, and some private briefings on it, have stirred concerns that enforcing gender equality will make it tougher for some institutions and EU member states to win Horizon Europe grants.

The gender provisions are among several possible changes the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe programme could introduce from March or April of this year. Many are mandated by the new Horizon Europe legislation that is due to get final Parliamentary approval in coming weeks. These include allowing big research institutions to use their own regular accounting methods, rather than the Commission’s previously rigid formula, when deciding how to bill for indirect project costs like infrastructure and central administration.

Others have been elaborated by Commission staff in months of detailed programme documents.

Many of these drafts have been circulating informally around the EU research community for weeks, but the Commission refuses to comment and won’t publish the final versions until after Parliament formally approves the legislation this spring. “We do not have the habit to comment on leaks,” a Commission spokesman said in an emailed reply to several requests for comment made by Science|Business.

According to the draft model grant agreement, beneficiaries are expected to promote equal opportunities between men and women during the project, in line with their published gender equality plans. “[Beneficiaries] must aim, to the extent possible, for a gender balance at all levels of personnel assigned to the action, including at supervisory and managerial level,” the draft says.

In addition, the proposal template warns applicants to “be aware” that if their proposal is selected, their organisation needs to have its gender equality plan in place before they can sign the grant agreement.

The Commission will require gender equality plans in the form of official documents published by research institutions and universities and signed by the top management. These plans would commit the institution to collect gender data on personnel and students, raise awareness on gender equality and unconscious biases among staff and decision makers.

The plans must also include “concrete measures and targets [on] work-life balance and organisational culture; gender balance in leadership and decision making; gender equality in recruitment and career progression; integration of the gender dimension into research and teaching content; measures against gender-based violence, including sexual harassment.”

According to a draft version of the general annexes to the 2021-2022 work programmes, “If necessary, the gender balance among the personnel named in the proposal who will be primarily responsible for carrying out the research and/or innovation activities, and who are included in the researchers’ table of the proposal, will be used as a factor for prioritisation.”

Broader push for gender mainstreaming

The changes introduced to EU’s main research and innovation programme, reflect a broader political push for gender equality in Europe. A strategy published in May 2020 listed key actions for the next five years to mainstream gender equality in all EU policy areas. “With the Gender Equality Strategy, we are pushing for more and faster progress to promote equality between men and women,” EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said at the launch of the plan.

In the field of research and innovation, studies by the European Commission, show women occupy only 24% of top academic positions, they are under-represented the science, technology and mathematics overall, and represent less than 10% of patent holders.

The Commission has already asked member states to develop concrete plans to promote gender equality, diversity and inclusiveness in research and innovation.

Until now, research organisations and funding agencies were encouraged to implement institutional changes through gender equality plans. The Commission even made funds available from Horizon 2020 for research organisations to implement these plans.

In September, EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel included further plans for improving gender balance in research organisations in her signature communication on revamping the European Research Area (ERA). That included a call for member states to develop plans to promote “gender equality, diversity, and inclusiveness in science, research, and innovation”. For now, the Commission is in the process of devising a governance structure for ERA and it is not clear yet how the implementation of gender equality plans in member states would be evaluated.

In December, the Commission concluded trilateral negotiations with the Council and the Parliament on the Horizon Europe legal framework, which includes provisions for the research programme to “eliminate gender inequalities” and to promote equality between women and men in research and innovation. “The gender dimension should be integrated in research and innovation content and followed through at all stages of the research cycle,” the framework says.

Universities get ahead

Thomas Jørgensen, senior policy coordinator at the European University Association said most universities have gender equality strategies or similar initiatives in place and will be able to handle the proposed requirements. According to him, it should not be too difficult to tick the gender equality box.

“Researchers will probably be able to show that strategies exists in one way or the other, as most universities already do this,” said Jørgensen.

A study by the EUA in 159 higher education institutions found many have already put together plans to enable people from less-represented backgrounds to advance academic and research careers. “The topic is on the agenda in universities, not only because funders would like it, but because universities want to do it themselves,” said Jørgensen.

However, Jørgensen says the proposed new provisions seem “draconian” and “inflexible” and the EU could be missing a broader debate about “the link between excellence and diversity”. The focus of EU policies should not be only on the gender gap, but should be aimed at supporting a universal idea about equity and diversity that includes other underprivileged groups and how such equity could improve excellence in universities, he says.

Diverse universities perform better than homogenous ones, because they have access to more perspectives and are more creative. “Diversity is a precondition for excellence,” Jørgensen said.

New evaluation rules

In addition to the new gender balance criteria for breaking ties, leaked draft documents reveal further changes to how the new research programme will work compared to its predecessor, Horizon 2020:

  • Horizon Europe applicants will be asked to name all the researchers who will be involved in the project and their role. EU funding experts say this new provision would slow down the application process, as researchers are often on the move and institutions rarely can guarantee that all researchers listed in the application will work on the project through to the end.
  • Also, for certain types of projects, research organisations do not allocate researchers at the time of the application. This new provision could mean that the Commission wants to do more thorough evaluations of personnel costs to reduce a potential source of fraud, check whether personnel costs are used for researchers on the payroll of the organisation, and make sure that consortia do not introduce new people in an ongoing project.
  • According to the leaked drafts, the Commission is to introduce a blind evaluation pilot. For two-stage submissions, the researchers’ identity will not be disclosed to evaluators during the first stage of their assessment.
  • In the leaked drafts, the Commission has also listed all the activities that are eligible for funding. Two new project types will be introduced in the research programme: innovation and market deployment actions (IMDA), for projects that seek to deploy innovations to the market and to scale-up companies; and training and mobility actions (TMA), for projects that use cross-country mobility to improve skills, knowledge and career prospects for researchers. The first is intended for use by the European Innovation Council, which funds small or growing tech companies. The second is for use by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, which funds big consortia of universities and companies that promote innovation and train young innovators.
  • Researchers could be forced to agree to “immediately” deposit any research output in a repository and provide access to it under a creative commons or public domain dedication licences, in case their research is deemed of public interest during an emergency. The draft model agreement does not specify what kind of emergencies would fit this bill. The model grant agreement for Horizon 2020 has a similar clause but that only applied for health emergencies. It remains unclear whether researchers and their organisations will get reimbursed or their intellectual property protected after agreeing to this clause.
  • The Commission is also planning to introduce a new proposal length for single-stage applications. The top limit could be reduced from 70 pages in Horizon 2020 to only 45.

Source: sciencebusiness

European Innovation Council officially launched

By SalM on March 19, 2021 in News

After a three-year pilot phase, the EIC emerges fully formed, with €1.5B to invest in innovation this year and calls for proposals.

After its three-year pilot, the European Innovation Council (EIC) finally launched as a full-fledged €10 billion agency on Thursday, kicking off with three calls worth a total €1.5 billion.

EIC will provide both grant funding and direct investment for start-ups through its €10 billion equity fund, with the aim of supplying the capital to translate Europe‘s world leading science through to market.

“We, Europeans, are excellent [at] making science with money. But we are not so good [at] making money out of science,” Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said. “The new European Innovation Council is there to help resolve this paradox,” she said at the launch.

The €10 billion sounds like a lot of money but more funding is needed to match the ambition, said Christian Ehler, MEP and rapporteur for the Horizon Europe research programme, of which EIC is part.  Success rates have been as low as 2% for some of the calls in the pilot phase. “It’s a thirsty new crowd, but it will be a successful crowd.”

EIC is the brainchild of the previous EU research commissioner, Carlos Moedas. But the concept of a new funding body with new needs within the EU research programme was a nightmare for traditional Commission administrators, and the idea was met with a lot of scepticism and unfavourable media coverage at first, Ehler noted.

But discussions continued, and after funding over 5,000 SMEs and innovation projects in its pilot phase, EIC is now ready for business.

There is a slight qualification, in that Horizon Europe is still awaiting approval by the Parliament. EIC can launch calls thanks to a legal clause that allows a retroactive start to the programme: up to official approval in April, EIC can accept and evaluate proposals. But grant agreements cannot be signed, and no money will flow until Horizon Europe is adopted by MEPs.

From 1 April, EIC will be merging with the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, which manages the EU’s SME support programmes, to form EISMEA (European Innovation Council and SMEs).

This new agency, headed by the current chief of the EIC taskforce, Jean-David Malo, will distribute grant funding on behalf of the EIC, while equity investments will continue to be managed by the EIC Fund, launched last summer.

The EIC could see itself playing a strategic role in the EU quest for technology sovereignty, having the right in certain cases, to buy golden shares in companies, to outvote foreign investors.

But EU research commission Mariya Gabriel said the EIC is not a political tool. “If there are some priorities to fix, it’s not political priorities, it’s European priorities,” she said.

First calls

The first EIC calls and the work programme setting the agenda for the next year are now out. “Today, we don’t just cut ribbons. We get down to business and launch the first calls,” said von der Leyen.

Start-ups looking for funding will be able to submit short pitches at any time and, if successful, will be invited to submit full applications by 9 June or 6 October 2021.

There is a total of €592.5 million this year for start-ups, with an additional €495.1 million for challenge-driven targeted calls in certain areas of health, digital technology and green deal innovations.

The Pathfinder, which funds high-risk projects with breakthrough potential, will accept applications for research in any field until 19 May. A total of €168 million will be awarded in grants of up to €3 million in this bottom-up, open, call.

For the bottom-down call, there is €132 million for research consortia to apply for grants of up to €4 million by 27 October. The Pathfinder sets out five challenges:

  1. Awareness inside (projects scrutinising the idea of artificial intelligence consciousness);
  2. Tools to measure and stimulate activity in brain tissue;
  3. Emerging technologies in cell and gene therapy;
  4. Novel routes to green hydrogen production;
  5. Engineered living materials.

The work programme also introduces Transition grants for translating EU-funded research to market.

There is €59.6 million for the bottom-up call and €40.5 million for innovation targeting medical devices and energy harvesting and storage technologies.

The projects must build on previous EIC Pathfinder or European Research Council proof-of-concept projects. Researchers, SMEs and small consortia can request up to €2.5 million.

Source: sciencebusiness