What are the ethics around research during a global pandemic?

By SalM on February 26, 2021 in COVID-19

By Elizabeth Kiely and Ciara HeavinUCC

Yet another survey has just arrived into our email inbox to explore how we were coping with our new normal. We coined the term “covidata” to describe the insatiable need and demand for data currently being driven by the pandemic and likely to continue for some time.

Social research ethics committees are reviewing Covid-19 related studies and considering a range of research questions exploring the effect of the global pandemic on different groups’ knowledge, attitudes and practices. These include university students, academics working in their new virtual environments and employees working in small and large business and not-for-profit organisations. Against the current backdrop, these studies are asking questions about how we work and live, what we are buying, our experiences of homeschooling and how we are coping with the stress/pressure/anxiety as we deal with all of our new, albeit temporary, reality.

There is no doubt that the coronavirus has created new opportunities for big research ideas that could potentially directly inform local, national, and international practice, policy and research during and after the pandemic. However, ethical, mindful and responsible researchers need to give careful consideration to the timing and the manner by which research is conducted. For example, a recent article published in the Lancet Psychiatry noted that some studies in the area of self-harm and suicide have been paused for a number of reasons. These include the unknown unnecessary burden they may be putting on participants who may not have the same access to the services and supports they used pre-pandemic.

Certainly, Covid-19 is presenting researchers and students with new challenges in the research field, which can cause stress and anxiety. We are now required to reorient our inquiries, adopt new methodologies or modes of engagement and develop revised ethical protocols as required. Our research may be moving online posing new ethical challenges that require careful consideration. Timelines and budgets for research projects commenced pre Covid-19 have to be reconsidered.

In times of stress such as this one, speedy solutions are sought and there is the risk that extraordinary measures introduced during extraordinary times continue to be used in ordinary times and can be re-purposed in ways that were not foreseen. For example, various technological solutions such as digital contact tracing apps have been adopted or proposed by governments in different countries to prevent virus transmission. Their use at the time of a pandemic does not remove or downplay human rights, privacy or cost concerns. They must be rigorous questioning as to the risks these solutions pose and the limits of what they promise.

It seems more important than ever that ethical standards required for the conduct of research are not slackened. Rather, the current situation provides opportunity for everyday ethical engagement. Writing in Nature, Gemma Derrick speculated that this new era may prompt us to examine our research motivations.

We could use the momentum of Covid-19 to firmly embed kindness into research practice

“A once narrow, competitive drive to collect data for our individual research ambitions has been replaced by dialogue about whether now, with everyone’s mind otherwise occupied, is really the best time to be collecting data?”, Derrick wrote. “This goes beyond concerns about data reliability and reproducibility, towards a type of empathy and foresight that is the bedrock of research kindness. We could use the momentum of Covid-19 to firmly embed kindness into research practice, extending greater goodwill beyond this, temporary, situation.”

As we pause our “normal” lives, is it also time to pause for thought to critically reflect on our motivation to conduct particular types of research? While pausing, we might consider what naturally occurring or already existing data is available that can be successfully mined to answer new questions. For instance, how can data gathered during previous pandemics / epidemics be of benefit to us during this one?

We can turn to secondary data collection or identify further potential in previously collected primary datasets.  We can conduct systematic reviews, rapid reviews, meta-analyses or advance new inquiries using already existing datasets held in digital repositories.  Undoubtedly, reflective diaries, lockdown journals, oral histories, and other creative outputs produced during Covid-19 will provide rich resources for research.

We can do our utmost to ensure that the data we are gathering is adding value

As the demand for “covidata” intensifies, we need to be mindful not to cause research fatigue. We need to consider how vulnerable individuals and constituencies can be real beneficiaries of our research while taking care not to over-research them or to compound their vulnerability. We can direct our research gaze upwards so that the activities of corporate elites, key decision makers, and powerful actors during Covid-19 do not evade the research spotlight.

We can take account of who is benefitting from our research findings and in what ways. We can guard against ourselves or others over-claiming the significance of our research findings, which may require considered analysis and interpretation as to their relevance for ‘normal’ times. We need to assess how and why our research findings may find their way into policy and practice or if not, why not.

If we produce careful data management plans at the outset of our research projects, we can better ensure the preservation of the data we gather for future use by ourselves and others facilitating opportunity for re-analysis and new interpretation. We can do our utmost to ensure that the data we are gathering is adding value and that our research outputs are FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) and timely.

Dr Elizabeth Kiely is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Applied Social Studies at UCC. She is a former Irish Research Council awardee. Dr Ciara Heavin is a Senior Lecturer in Business Information Systems in the Cork University Business School at UCC. She is a former Irish Research Council awardee

Source: rte.ie

Collaborations with artists go beyond communicating the science

By SalM on February 25, 2021 in News

Exhilarating, challenging, enlightening, stimulating, inspiring, fun.

These were some of the words that Nature readers used to describe their experiences of art–science collaborations in a series of articles on partnerships between artists and researchers. Nearly 40% of the roughly 350 people who responded to an accompanying poll said they had collaborated with artists; and almost all said they would consider doing so in future.

Such an encouraging result is not surprising. Public engagement has become essential to many research projects. Scientists are increasingly seeking out visual artists and designers to help them to communicate their work to new audiences. “Artists help scientists reach a broader audience and make emotional connections that enhance learning,” one respondent said. “The experience is very liberating for me, as a scientist,” said another. “There’s often a visual aspect to my science that generating and publishing data does not convey.”

One example of how artists and scientists have together rocked the senses came last month when the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia performed a reworked version of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. They reimagined the 300-year-old score by injecting the latest climate prediction data for each season — provided by Monash University’s Climate Change Communication Research Hub in Melbourne. The work was entitled The (Uncertain) Four Seasons, and variations of the score containing local data were sent to every major orchestra in the world. The performance was a creative call to action ahead of November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, UK.

Another example is how researchers are able to ‘walk’ inside cells by incorporating nanometre-scale images from super-resolution microscopy into virtual-reality software (A. Spark et al. Nature Methods 17, 1097–1099; 2020). Researchers are also deploying scientific methods to study many aspects of literature and music.

But a genuine partnership must be a two-way street. Fewer artists than scientists responded to the Nature poll; however, several respondents noted that artists do not simply assist scientists with their communication requirements. Nor should their work bes considered only as an object of study — even if these are reasons why scientists seek opportunities to work with artists. The alliances are most valuable when scientists and artists have a shared stake in a project, are able to jointly design it and can critique each other’s work. Such an approach can both prompt new research as well as result in powerful art.

More than half a century ago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) opened its Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) in Cambridge to explore the role of technology in culture. The centre was established during the Vietnam War, when many scientists in the United States were being criticized for working on defence contracts. Its founders believed that artists and scientists could, together, create a vision for a more humane world. They deliberately focused their projects around light — hence the ‘visual studies’ in the name. Light was a something that both artists and scientists had an interest in, and therefore could form the basis of collaboration, says Seth Riskin, a visual-arts researcher at the MIT Museum who previously worked at CAVS.

Among its many achievements, CAVS was responsible for Centerbeam, a 44-metre-long installation illustrating energy transfer. It included laser drawings against clouds of steam, holograms lit by mirrors tracking the Sun and huge nylon sculptures lifted into the air with helium-filled polyethylene tubing. As science and technology progressed, and divided into more sub-disciplines, the centre was simultaneously looking to a time when leading researchers could also be artists, writers and poets, and vice versa.

Nature’s poll findings suggest that this trend is as strong as ever, but, to make a collaboration work, both sides need to be prepared to be surprised and challenged, to invest time in getting to know one another and to trust their different expertise. “I enjoyed physics for its elegance and symmetry,” a quantum physicist said in response to the poll. Their artist collaborator was drawn more to the messy reality of the process of science, which is not always reflected in popular science communication.

The reach of art–science tie-ups needs to go beyond the necessary purpose of research communication, and participants must not fall into the trap of stereotyping each other. Artists and scientists alike are immersed in discovery and invention, and challenge and critique are core to both, too.

Source: nature.com

What is responsible innovation, and why should tech giants take it seriously?

By SalM on February 24, 2021 in News

Tech firms are now some of the biggest on the planet. Apple became the world’s first trillion-dollar company, while Amazon, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Microsoft and Facebook make up the rest of the top five companies on the planet by market value.

Most of these companies have grown to their current size in a relatively short time – none of the companies listed above are more than 50 years old, and only two of them existed before the 1990s – thanks to quick thinking, rapid innovation and changing technologies

And each of these companies, along with numerous other, smaller tech firms, have changed the world in different ways.

The size and reach of these companies inevitably means that the products they make, and the ways in which they behave, have significant environmental and societal effects on the public at large. Whether it’s the use of raw materials to create the next iPhone or Google Pixel device, or Facebook changing the way we interact with each other on a daily basis, these companies have changed the lives of billions of people in many ways.

So who is keeping the biggest businesses in tech in check? It’s a daunting task, but one way of doing it is through an initiative called ‘responsible research and innovation’. It has a broad definition, and it’s employed to tackle a variety of different issues relating to the ways companies effect our daily lives.

Responsible research and innovation is an approach that anticipates and assesses potential implications and societal expectations with regard to research and innovation, with the aim to foster the design of inclusive and sustainable research and innovation.

The European Commission has defined the term as covering six key areas that it believes need to be tackled by industries, governing bodies and companies.

  • Engagement: Making sure everyone who should be involved in the discussion, such as society as a whole, other researchers and policy makers have knowledge of innovation.
  • Gender equality: Ensuring equality in gender across all aspects of research and innovation.
  • Science Education: Making sure future researchers have knowledge and tools to engage with the same process.
  • Open Access: Making sure the research and innovation process is both transparent and accessible, usually through the internet.
  • Ethics: To ensure all research and innovation reaches the highest ethical standards to ensure it has high societal relevance.
  • Governance: How responsibility should ultimately lie at policymakers to ensure there aren’t harmful or unethical effects to innovation.

But why exactly is it important for the big tech companies to embrace these principles and work toward responsible research and innovation? There’s no getting away from the fact most companies primarily exist to make money rather than act ethically.

“We have seen recent examples where big tech companies have failed to adhere to the spirit and potentially also to the letter of the law regarding data protection, privacy, and so on.

“Business practices should also be aligned with the values, needs, and expectations of society.“

“Sometimes this seems to be a result of governance that has not taken public values and expectations into account. Scandals can have a detrimental impact on businesses, meaning that the application of responsible research and innovation should be in the interests not only of society but the companies concerned as well.”

The source didn’t expand on the previous scandals they were referring to, but it’s highly likely that they had in mind the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when that company harvested information from 87 million Facebook users without their consent, and allegedly sold the information on.

This became a huge embarrassment to Facebook, with founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appearing in front of the US Congress to apologize publicly, and the company undertaking a costly advertising campaign in an attempt to reestablish its reputation.

Could more responsibility in its innovation have helped avoid the issue? We’ll likely never know for certain.

Aside from the reassuring public statements and a few cosmetic changes to their services, it can difficult to know exactly what companies are doing to tackle ethical issues behind the scenes, but we can be sure that Facebook in particular is working hard to make sure nothing like this can happen again.

Anthonie Meijers, scientific director of 4TU.Ethics, said: “Facebook stood out as a bad example for the way they have given third parties access to their users’ data and ignored the spread of fake news on their platform, but under pressure they currently seem to be changing their ways.

“Good companies really understand the importance of responsible innovation for the company and for society in the long run – they don’t do it just for PR reasons.”

Responsible research and innovation may be an end goal for some of these companies, but the truth is the process won’t ever end. It’s something companies will have to continually tackle.

“Good companies really understand the importance of responsible innovation for the company and for society in the long run.“

Ralf Lindner, RRI researcher

Ralf Lindner, a senior researcher on the topic of RRI, said: “I see responsible innovation more as an ongoing process. Just like sustainability, which was absent from corporate agendas until the recent past, responsible innovation will have to be gradually taken up by corporate governance schemes and embedded in industrial R&D practices. No doubt, this will be at times challenging and hard work.

“However, once responsible practices are broadly and deeply institutionalized, ensuring a positive impact of innovation on society will be part of companies’ day-to-day routines.”

Responsible research and innovation is a nebulous and complex topic that many companies still need to get to grips with. Much like innovation itself, RRI won’t ever end and it’s an idea that will continue to evolve and adapt, just like the big tech firms that need to embrace it.

Source: techradar

First calls under Horizon Europe to be launched by the European Research Council

By SalM on February 22, 2021 in News

The European Commission today presented the Work Programme 2021 for the European Research Council. This is the first work programme under Horizon Europe, Europe’s new Framework Programme for Research and Innovation for 2021-2027. It includes three main calls for proposals for frontier research actions for a total amount of €1.9 billion. The European Research Council (ERC) offers grants to top researchers from anywhere in the world who are ready to come or to stay in Europe to pursue their breakthrough scientific and technological discoveries that can form the basis of new industries, markets, and social innovations of the future.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Research, Innovation, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “I am very pleased that we have today adopted the Work Programme of the European Research Council. This important step paves the way for launching calls that support top researchers and their teams to pursue frontier research at different stages of their careers. The first call will support young researchers across Europe who are starting their own independent research team or programme. They are the future of European research.”

Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, President of the European Research Council, said: “The ERC Scientific Council is pleased that under Horizon Europe the European Research Council can continue to back Europe’s researchers and their most innovative ideas. We will be able to issue more grants than ever before. Thanks to the European Commission’s commitment, and the outstanding dedication of the Executive Agency staff, we are now ready to launch the 2021 Starting Grant call on 25 February.”

First calls for proposals in 2021

Over the entire long-term EU budget 2021-2027, the European Research Council is set to receive over €16 billion from Horizon Europe, which represents an increase of 22% vis-à-vis Horizon 2020.

Within the new series of competitions, the first call to be launched is the European Research Council’s Starting Grants, which will support top researchers to start their own independent research team or programme. The call will be launched on 25 February, with a budget of €619 million and a deadline of 8 April.

Other grant competitions will follow according to the work programme’s calendar: on 11 March the call for Consolidator Grants for researchers who are consolidating their own independent research team or programme will open, with a budget of €633 million. The deadline for applications is 20 April. Finally, on 20 May the European Research Council will launch a call for Advanced Grants for leading advanced investigators, with a budget of €626 million and deadline on 31 August.

Due to the transition to the new Framework Programme, the Synergy Grants are not available under the 2021 Work Programme. The award of Synergy Grants is likely to resume under the Work Programme of 2022. The Proof of Concept Grant is currently under revision by the Scientific Council, the governing body of the European Research Council, and therefore does not appear in this Work Programme either.

The 2021 Work Programme also covers other actions and public procurement to allow the Scientific Council to carry out its duties and mandate, including the appointment of independent experts during the evaluation of proposals and the preparation of the calls, for ethics review and for the monitoring of ongoing projects. It also covers the Scientific Council’s obligations to establish the overall strategy of the European Research Council and to monitor the quality of the programme’s implementation from the scientific perspective.


The European Research Council awards grants through open competitions to projects headed by starting and established researchers. As its sole selection criterion is scientific excellence, it strives to attract top researchers from anywhere in the world to come and stay in Europe. So far, the European Research Council has funded over 9,500 top researchers at various stages of their careers, and over 70,000 postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and other staff working in their research teams. An independent review in 2020 found that some 80% of projects funded are scientific breakthroughs or major advances, showing the outstanding quality of this EU-funded research.

Source: ec.europa.eu

‘Women and girls belong in science’ declares UN chief

By SalM on February 19, 2021 in News, Women in Research

“Advancing gender equality in science and technology is essential for building a better future”, Secretary-General António Guterres stated, “We have seen this yet again in the fight against COVID-19”.

Women, who represent 70 per cent of all healthcare workers, have been among those most affected by the pandemic and those leading the response to it. Yet, as women bear the brunt of school closures and working from home, gender inequalities have increased dramatically over the past year.

Woman’s place is in the lab

Citing the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) he said that women account for only one third of the world’s researchers and hold fewer senior positions than men at top universities, which has led to “a lower publication rate, less visibility, less recognition and, critically, less funding”.

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning replicate existing biases.

“Women and girls belong in science”, stressed the Secretary-General.

Yet stereotypes have steered them away from science-related fields.

Diversity fosters innovation

The UN chief underscored the need to recognize that “greater diversity fosters greater innovation”.

“Without more women in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics], the world will continue to be designed by and for men, and the potential of girls and women will remain untapped”, he spelled out.

Their presence is also critical in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to close gender pay gaps and boost women’s earnings by $299 billion over the next ten years, according to Mr. Guterres.

“STEM skills are also crucial in closing the global Internet user gap”, he said, urging everyone to “end gender discrimination, and ensure that all women and girls fulfill their potential and are an integral part in building a better world for all”.

‘A place in science’

Meanwhile, despite a shortage of skills in most of the technological fields driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution, women still account for only 28 per cent of engineering graduates and 40 per cent of graduates in computer science and informatics, according to UNESCO.

It argues the need for women to be a part of the digital economy to “prevent Industry 4.0 from perpetuating traditional gender biases”.

UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay observed that “even today, in the 21st century, women and girls are being sidelined in science-related fields due to their gender”.

As the impact of AI on societal priorities continues to grow, the underrepresentation of women’s contribution to research and development means that their needs and perspectives are likely to be overlooked in the design of products that impact our daily lives, such as smartphone applications.

“Women need to know that they have a place in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and that they have a right to share in scientific progress”, said Ms. Azoulay.

‘Pathway’ to equality

Commemorating the day at a dedicated event, General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir informed that he is working with a newly established Gender Advisory Board to mainstream gender throughout all of the UN’s work, including the field of science.

“We cannot allow the COVID-19 pandemic to derail our plans for equality”, he said, adding that increasing access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, for women and girls has emerged as “a pathway to gender equality and as a key objective of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

Mr. Volkan highlighted the need to accelerate efforts and invest in training for girls to “learn and excel in science”.

“From the laboratory to the boardroom, Twitter to television, we must amplify the voices of female scientists”, he stressed.

STEM minorities

Meanwhile, UNESCO and the L’Oréal Foundation honoured five women researchers in the fields of astrophysics, mathematics, chemistry and informatics as part of the 23rd International Prize for Women in Science.

In its newly published global study on gender equality in scientific research, To be smart, the digital revolution will need to be inclusive, UNESCO shows that although the number of women in scientific research has risen to one in three, they remain a minority in mathematics, computer science, engineering and artificial intelligence.

“It is not enough to attract women to a scientific or technological discipline”, said Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, Assistant UNESCO Director-General for Natural Sciences.

“We must also know how to retain them, ensuring that their careers are not strewn with obstacles and that their achievements are recognized and supported by the international scientific community”.

European Research and Innovation Days

By SalM on February 15, 2021 in News

Let’s shape the future together

European Research and Innovation Days is the European Commission’s annual flagship Research and Innovation event, bringing together policymakers, researchers, entrepreneurs and the public to debate and shape the future of research and innovation in Europe and beyond.

The event will take place online on 23 and 24 June 2021, allowing everyone to get involved from anywhere.

This year marks the start of Horizon Europe, our most ambitious EU research and innovation programme ever and will be a decisive moment to strengthen our European Research Area. Cooperation in research and innovation is essential in our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and will pave the way to a greener and more digital future. The European Research and Innovation Days represent a unique opportunity to add your voice to the conversation.

The event is all about collaboration: bringing together individuals and experts from all areas to build connections and ignite a brighter future.

Stay tuned for more news and updates!

European Research and Innovation Days 2020

The 2020 European Research and Innovation Days was the first online edition and took place from September 22 to 24.

Consisting of a Policy conference and the Science is Wonderful! exhibition, the event brought together over 35 000 registered participants from 188 countries in 146 sessions under the policy conference, and the exhibition saw over 6000 visits, including from schools, universities and citizens.

Relive the experience of the event by watching the videos of the sessions.

European Research and Innovation Days 2019

The first annual European Research and Innovation Days took place in Brussels on 24-26 September 2019. The event brought together stakeholders, policy makers and thought leaders to debate and shape the future research and innovation landscape. See the videos, pictures and speakers to get a flavour of the event.

Source: europa.eu

The Responsible Innovation in the Age of AI

By SalM on February 15, 2021 in News

Facial recognition, privacy, and ethics are gaining more attention in the marketplace. Technology leaders are increasingly thinking about AI’s impact on people’s lives. But, with mixed reality, 5G wireless converging with artificial intelligence, the focus is really on Responsible Innovation.

Alka Roy founded the Responsible Innovation Project to start the dialogue with technology leaders from various industries about what it means to develop technologies in a responsible manner.

Her framework seeks to create norms in the marketplace where law and market forces drive each other to propel innovation forward in a human-centered sustainable way.

She recently spoke at the Newton Series at UC Berkeley, where several hundred students resonated with her vision. They saw the need to bring a responsible lens to the technology culture and the technology ecosystems that we are creating.

Alka Roy says, “Ask yourself, how much do you trust the people who come in and try to sell you something called responsible AI—a package of sorts. What does responsible AI even look like? Is there such a thing? It’s a hard problem to solve. It takes work. When people build AI or come with toolkits or solutions, I trust them more when I think they’re being responsible. When they are willing to show up with transparency about the shortcomings and value. When they can talk about how they hold themselves accountable.”

Alka’s framework puts responsible innovation at the center of developing technology that is dependable & inclusive, delightful & trusted, and open & safe. Her framework accounts for how law, market forces, and technology can work together to create norms within the ecosystem.

Roy says, “This framework is not rocket science. It’s a reframing. The external variables or stakeholders are defined, not as pressures as we are taught in business schools, but as influences. You have to be viable economically for you to sustain and prosper, yes. You interpret and answer to the legal and policy requirements. And then there is self-regulation, the norms, the culture. This is what I am really focusing on. With innovation and technology, this is the part that is most fluid and critical. Because we are constantly in motion, making choices and decisions.”

Cultural Norms Come From Interactions Within The Innovation Ecosystem

Our innovation ecosystem is composed of many different products, companies, industries, where people develop, consume, and care about the technologies that they use. It’s the interactions between the products, companies, and technologies that naturally drive the set of principles that can become cultural norms of Responsible Innovation.

Roy says, “Every digital experience or interaction we have, like a search engine interaction, or a product that you use in a mapping product, a slew of people, many companies, many technologies have come together to create this complex little hive. What if everybody followed a set of principles with transparency about values, milestones, and it was part of the process and discipline to assess risks and understand the impacts, not only to people who usually call stakeholders to the wider set of stakeholders. If you couldn’t answer that question, there would be others to help, and it would be ok to ask for help. Think of the scientific process or manufacturing industry that has build processes to navigate higher risks and need for precision. Sometimes just understanding who and what we are excluding and including helps. And this can be based on the risk, built into our decision-making tools, best practices, with this other lens of how it will impact the world.”

Often, when we think about societal issues created by technology, we tend to pit humans against machines. This kind of thinking creates an atmosphere of animosity toward technology that ultimately does not help us solve the underlying issues to move the needle toward sustainable innovation.

Roy says, “I just want people to understand that when these discussions become framed as people against  machines, it’s problematic because it’s not really humans against machines. It’s really a bunch of humans and a bunch of machines and a bunch of processes and a bunch of cultures trying to get as much out of a user that they can. It’s really a many to one correlation. If you study modeling or game theory or behavioral economics, it gets confusing and complex fast. We’re definitely not going to solve the problem correctly if we don’t even understand it correctly.”

Understanding The Problem and Making Incremental Shifts

Last month, Alka Roy convened a roundtable of industry leaders to find out what are the main issues related to Responsible Innovation. A report was produced after the roundtable that consolidated everyone’s feedback. It is a starting point for understanding the layers of responsible innovation.

Roy says, “What I’ve been doing is what many others have been doing for a long time—just peeling the layers. Peeling the layers for myself and with my colleagues and really anyone I talk to. The messy part, though is that you have to arrive at it for yourself. It’s a collective and individual journey. Large companies, meaning people in those companies are doing  what they are doing because it has worked for a long time. It’s habitual. First, they have to slow down and admit that there are problems or opportunities. Then they have to be willing to give something up that they are currently getting. You know, with their current process and habits. Then, they have to know what to fix and how to fix it. They have so many competing interests. And what if they’re not even measured on building technology and AI with care and values—you know, responsibly. If they aren’t rewarded, internally or in external communities, or even for thinking about it. Will it be worth it?”

Humans create technology. But, relationships underlie the creation of these technologies. Relationships also underlie the usage of technologies. Relationships are formed from everyday interactions. The interaction between consumers and technology, the interaction between developers and products that they develop, and the interaction between businesses that produce technologies in the marketplace can all represent incremental shifts in cultural norms toward a more responsible innovation paradigm.

Roy says, “Relationships determine interactions, and they both evolve. They are constantly evolving. So, it’s hard for me to prescribe a definite way—the right or wrong way. That is why I stay away from shaming or even taking discreet, ethical stands unless it’s an extreme or clear case. I’m an engineer and an artist. To me, everything is about discovery and incremental shifts. And we have a responsibility to teach our students how to do that responsibly, our children, and the machines that we create, especially if we build autonomy in it.

Technology Leadership and the Mindset Shift

In the last few decades, as we have seen technology being developed and deployed at an unprecedented pace, we have also seen the problems inside companies and in industries that we consistently grapple with when it comes to technology. Issues such as privacy, equality were all debated and negotiated within the free market system. These negotiations often start at lines of code and perpetuate throughout the systems to become industry norms.

Roy says, “What I have been researching is how we are making decisions with technology, be it neural networks or AI or a brain-computer interface (BCI), or even simple decisions like what comments should I put next to these three lines of code so that someone else can understand it. How do we understand our own agency, our power, influence? Do we feel a sense of responsibility for what we’re putting out into the world in a complex way? Not trying to please someone else, but tapping into our own self-regulation, our own power. Whenever I talk to a startup founder or a tech leader about that, if they allow themselves to go there, there is a shift of 1% maybe, but then they make decisions differently. We have to educate our humans, our people differently, have them tap into their agency to make those responsible decisions under time pressures.”

When we educate the next generation of technology leaders differently, there’s tremendous power in creating these mindset shifts toward responsibility. Underlying every technology are relationships that flourish on trust. For instance, our hiring practices in technology historically focused on hiring unicorns. But that is changing now. We are more focused on hiring groups of technologists that have complementary skills and building creative multidisciplinary teams to execute innovations. In these teams, there are opportunities to build a trusting culture that can enable each individual to think more about the impact of technology that’s created.

Roy says, “Ok, so that feels natural to me. It’s messy but also filled with potential for innovation—like our mind and social systems and relationships. We build our relationships in layers, scaffolding after scaffolding. When we make business or technology decisions today, we do that. We use  decision trees, mental models, algorithmic models about risks, rewards, and probability.  What we need to do is to make some of these variables transparent, add variables that include impact—leverage inclusive design practices, good engineering models. Apply and see how it works. The stakes are high. It matters how we choose the test or training or synthetic data-sets. What do we know about its source, or its lineage? Who can it harm? Who does it leave out? What was rigor used in making and testing the model we are using? How much agency does our design take from other people?”

Constant Evolution Means Constant Redemption

Similar to the way that innovation evolves, cultural norms of responsible innovation, once defined in the industry, are adopted by companies incrementally. Behind every decision, there’s a chance to improve that decision for a better outcome.

Roy says, “We all have a chance of redemption with every decision. This is what I told the startup founder I talked to this morning. I felt kind of icky talking to that investor, you’re going to have another chance to talk differently to a different person, be willing to say yes and no for yourself. This stuff is not easy but what is? There is so much clutter that we often can’t hear ourselves. Learn from each thing. If there’s a part of you judging yourself, see if you can redirect it to the next decision. In my experience, self-righteousness and judgements restrict rather than expand…”

As technologies become increasingly complex, our understanding of the products we develop and how they are used evolve inside the marketplace change. On any given day, our assumptions may be limited. As the marketplace changes, there’s always a need to evolve our thinking to keep up with these technologies. Therefore, there’s always room to think about the impact of our technology to make incremental shifts toward responsibility.

Roy says, “We have mental models, which we’re trying to obviously put into computers, right? We have various mental models that we constantly navigate, and they’re competing mental models. We program many of these mental models into machines. The reason we get many of them wrong is because we are often trying to make decisions about our future based on what we know about the past. And honestly, it’s hard to pinpoint and code the fluidity of even slightly complex and interdependent decision making. We have ask the question: Why are we designing technology the way we are designing it? And what needs to evolve? Get curious about what we think we know and see if we can see it or understand it in a novel way.”

Source: Forbes

Gender equality in EU Academia

By SalM on February 10, 2021 in News, Women in Research

The European Commission’s plan to establish an initiative to address gender inequality in academe has been welcomed by sector leaders, who predicted that taking action to improve diversity will become a requirement for obtaining research funding from Brussels.

As part of wide-ranging proposals for developing the European Research Area (ERA) and the new European Education Area (EEA), the European Commission said it will, in 2021, “propose … the development of inclusive gender equality plans with member states and stakeholders in order to promote EU gender equality in R&I [research and innovation].”

The commission’s communication on ERA notes that “women remain significantly under-represented” within Europe’s research community, making up just 33.4 percent of researchers, 24 percent of professors and 26 percent of university leaders.

“Despite evidence that balanced teams perform better, gender inequalities persist in Europe’s R&I systems,” the communication notes, adding that “coordinated action with education policies and research funders will promote a gender-inclusive culture.”

That statement, alongside the EEA’s reference to a “new agenda for higher education transformation [to] promote gender balance in academic careers,” was a clear signal that European research funding was likely to become dependent on obtaining an E.U.-accredited gender award, said Kurt Deketelaere, president of the League of European Research Universities, which represents 23 leading research-intensive universities.

“If you apply for European research funding, your institution will soon need to have a detailed gender action plan,” explained Deketelaere, who said that the system resembled recent efforts to encourage open science, in which, under Plan S, research funding will be denied to those who do not sign up to commitments on how research outputs will be made freely available.

“I am quite happy with this approach as long as it does not lead to an excess of red tape,” added Deketelaere, who contrasted the commission’s direction of travel to the U.K.’s recent decision to “water down” its commitment to Athena SWAN [a program that recognizes British universities for efforts to promote gender equity] by severing the link between diversity awards and research funding.

Marcela Linkova, coordinator of Gender Action, a group of national policy experts appointed by E.U. member states and associated countries, said she “welcomed the plan … that gender equality plans are likely to be a requirement for applicants for Horizon Europe.”

“The message must be clear that public funding for research and education cannot go to supporting institutions that discriminate, promulgate stereotypes or who are unable to make full use of the talents they employ,” said Linkova, who chairs the ERA committee’s working group on gender.

“The time has come to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, because inequality continues, including the gender pay gap and gender-based violence in academia,” added Linkova.

Jan Palmowski, secretary-general of the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, commented that the proposals on diversity would bring the E.U. closer into line with the U.K.

“At E.U. level, we have not had Athena SWAN and there are no other countries where there is a link between research funding and gender equality so, in some sense, the E.U. is catching up on the U.K.,” said Palmowski, despite the Westminster government’s recent decision to end such a link.

Thomas Estermann, director for governance, funding and public policy development at the European University Association, also praised the commission’s commitment to tackle gender diversity..

COVID-19 triggered unprecedented collaboration in research

By SalM on February 9, 2021 in COVID-19

The pandemic has both spurred on and demonstrated the value of open science, but has also exposed gaps in science policy. Now is a good time for reform, says OECD.

Unprecedented global collaboration between scientists has greatly accelerated understanding of the COVID-19 virus, the infection it causes, and the testing and development of therapies and vaccines to treat and prevent it.

This exemplar could form the basis for creating effective and long lasting models for open science, with enhanced international coordination and more targeted funding of research and development, which would  leave the world better prepared to respond to future pandemics, says the OECD’s Science and Technology Innovation 2021 report published today.

The report warns economic fallout from the pandemic is likely to severely reduce corporate spending on research and innovation, at the same time as it leaves debt-laden governments struggling to fund national R&D programmes. This could hamper innovation at a critical time.

Key findings of the report include:

  • In the first few months of the pandemic, national research funding bodies in countries for which data is available spent around $5 billion on emergency funding of COVID-19 R&D. That includes $850 million invested in Europe.
  • Across OECD countries, companies in the digital and pharmaceutical sectors increased R&D investments in 2020, while the automotive, aerospace and defence sectors saw their R&D spending decline, as sales and profitability decreased.
  • Around 75,000 scientific papers on COVID-19 were published in the 11 months to the end of November 2020. The US and China were major contributors, with a quarter of their COVID-19 papers co-authored with researchers in other countries. The highest level of collaboration was between scientists in the US and in China.
  • Over three quarters of scientific papers on COVID-19 were published with open access, making the content freely available to other researchers to access, as scientific publishers removed paywalls around COVID-19 research.

The research response to the COVID-19 pandemic provides a potent illustration of the value of collaboration, but the pandemic has also pointed to defects in the organisation and funding of research, highlighting the need for governments to reform science policy, the report says.

Science in the public eye

Beyond their research activities, scientists have been called upon to provide expert input on public health and other policy responses to the pandemic, with many becoming media personalities, communicating science to the general public. They have had to communicate evidence that is unavoidably incomplete and changing, and to do so in ways that promote public confidence and trust.

The way in which researchers have stepped forward to explain their findings has been an important contribution to managing the pandemic. But for various reasons, scientific advice to policy makers and the public is increasingly contested. The report says this requires governments to carefully communicate uncertainties, provide a balanced presentation of potential scenarios and be transparent about mistakes.

Despite the disruption, scientists have continued their work during the crisis, using digital tools and open data infrastructures to continue to function outside of their usual laboratory or field environments, underlining the importance of investment in digital infrastructure for scientific research.

The private sector has played a critical role, delivering a wide range of innovative products to help cope with the health emergency, The biopharmaceutical industry, often in partnership with academia, has launched hundreds of clinical trials targeting COVID-19 drugs and vaccines and academic start-up companies and SMEs have played a significant part in this.

In summary, the report says, the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated trends already underway. It has further opened access to data and publications, increased the use of digital tools, enhanced international collaboration, spurred a variety of public-private partnerships, and encouraged the active engagement of new players. “These developments could speed the transition to a more open science and innovation in the longer run,” OECD says.

Source: OECD

Citizen science has become a powerful tool assisting Covid pandemic response in India

By SalM on February 8, 2021 in COVID-19

Even before India reported its first case of Covid-19, WhatsApp messages began circulating, replete with advice on how to prevent and cure the SARS-CoV-2 infection. One message advised the reader to drink water every 15 minutes, another said the virus could be killed by breathing hot air from the sauna or a hair dryer.

In March 2020, the deputy commissioner of Mangaluru directed officials to take action against individuals spreading Covid-related fake messages on WhatsApp. However, such measures do not address the systemic lack of scientific understanding in society.

Apart from being potentially life-threatening, the rise of pseudo-scientific messaging during the pandemic has also exposed that India’s educational system hasn’t done enough to impart scientific temper and understanding among our citizens. While these fault lines were often visible during sporadic events in the past, Covid brought them to the fore.

Now, there is a new alternative that could help bridge this gap between the public and science — it’s called ‘citizen science’, and it has emerged as a powerful tool during the pandemic.

How citizen science aided pandemic response

Disseminating real-time and reliable information to the public during a pandemic plays a critical role in controlling the spread. This need led to the creation of Covid19Kerala.info, a crowdsourced citizen science project managed by the Collective for Open Data Distribution-Keralam (CODD-K) team.

“CODD-K collected Covid-19 data in real-time, curated it, and made it available to the public through a bilingual (English and Malayalam) user-friendly dashboard,” said Dr Neetha N. Vellichirammal, a CODD-K team member working at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in the US.

Many such citizen science projects have been initiated, which are assisting the pandemic response both in India and globally.

“Since the details are deposited in a public repository for longevity and reusability, it opens up opportunities for future studies and provides insights for future policymaking,” added Dr Neetha.

Other benefits of citizen science projects

Citizen science projects can be beneficial for all the stakeholders involved. Volunteers get first-hand experience by associating with a scientific exercise; acquire knowledge and learn to appreciate the process behind coming to the scientific conclusions.

Citizen science can also provide an innovative means of data collection for research, which otherwise may not have been possible, or would have been too expensive.

Apart from data collection during a pandemic, examples of citizen science research include monitoring and management of natural resources, including land, air, water, minerals and forests etc. In such large-scale and complicated projects, researchers can get the required data by distributing the workload among a larger group of volunteers, which drastically reduces the cost and time for implementation.

“Over the last few years, there has been a discernible interest and spurt of citizen science initiatives in India. The growth and permeation of ICT (information and communication technology), the availability and access to aggregation platforms, and the interest and awareness of citizens have all contributed to this growth,” commented Dr Prabhakar Rajagopal, coordinator of the India Biodiversity Portal and director of Strand Life Sciences.

“However, in a large and populous country like India, we are still at the tip of the iceberg in leveraging the potential power and possibilities of citizen science in India. Greater societal support with a favourable policy environment would help its growth and development,” he added.

How to harness it

One potential way to harness citizen science is by developing a framework for institutionalising it. However, several aspects for design and implementation would need to be considered during this process.

The National Achievement Survey conducted by the NCERT stated that students across 12 states scored significantly below the national average in mathematical ability, and also identified “learning” as a big challenge facing Indian education. The designing of specific citizen science projects and inculcating them at school and higher education levels could provide an effective learning tool for students.

In developed countries, most citizen science initiatives originate in the higher educational institutes. For example, many iconic projects such as ScienceAtHome and eBird started at Aarhus University, Denmark, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, US, respectively.

Similarly, top higher educational institutes in India, such as the IITs and IISERs, could help in spearheading and initiating such projects at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels. Many universities abroad now also have dedicated centres to coordinate and guide citizen science activities, but the Centre for Citizen Science (CCS), Pune, is currently the only one in India.

Currently, the number of citizen science projects is highly skewed in the south Indian states, and mainly focussed in the areas of environment and ecology. Various primary and higher educational institutes in India can be key to inclusion of students at different educational levels and geographies.

Ensuring data quality

A policy framework for citizen science also needs to address another important issue: Ensuring data quality.

“While the first assumption for a citizen science project is that knowledge and expertise is not confined to the ‘citadels of science’, citizen data would have observer biases. As data grows, simple machine algorithms and heuristics could provide the first level of automated validation and outlier detection,” said Dr Prabhakar Rajagopal.

To ensure data standardisation, several countries have framed and provided access to guidelines and best practices for citizen science. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a site on Quality Assurance Project Plan for citizen science projects which serves as a blueprint for how your project should run.

A ‘national online portal’, combined with a dashboard, based on an example like SciStarter, could act as a repository of all citizen science initiatives in India, and facilitate inter-regional connections and expand the coverage of citizen science projects.

The Department of Science and Technology in 2019 released the draft policy on Scientific Social Responsibility (SSR), which aims to strengthen the link between science and society. While the policy recognises the need for science outreach to strengthen the knowledge ecosystem, it fails to recognise the potential impact citizen science could have in this endeavour. However, the recently released draft of Science and Technology Policy does provide provisions for promoting ‘public engagement in science’ in general, and citizen science in particular.

With our demographic and ever-increasing penetration of technology, the potential of citizen science in India is vast and largely untapped. An evidence-based framework for citizen science policy has immense potential in contributing to not just in increasing scientific literacy and temper of the country, but also to Indian science as a whole.

Source: theprint.in