Empowering women leads to better science, research and innovation

By SalM on March 15, 2021 in News, Women in Research

EU commissioner for research and innovation announces Women TechEU, an EIC-led initiative that will offer coaching, mentoring and funding to promising female tech entrepreneurs.
Last year was a remarkable year for women in science. Two scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, one from the EU and one from the US, received a Nobel Prize for their discovery on the CRISPR-Cas9 genetic scissors. It was the first time that the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to two women in the same year in its 119-year history. It is amazing to see how the impact of women in science has grown exponentially since Marie Curie became the first women to receive a Nobel Prize in 1903. It sends an important message to younger generations of women and the world: We need your skills, talents and solutions.

Better science

While gender equality is important in and of itself, I would like to stress that having more women in science serves another, maybe even greater purpose: better science. The reason that we could start vaccinations in less than a year from the start of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe is because of the discoveries of amazing women scientists. Because of Katalin Karikó, a scientist from Hungary that since 1990 has worked tirelessly on developing mRNA technologies that are now at the basis of our COVID-19 vaccines. Because of Özlem Türeci, a German physician, scientist and entrepreneur who co-founded BioNTech, the first company to receive vaccine approval from the European Medicines Agency. Because of all the women in research and innovation across Europe and the world that have contributed to new treatments, diagnostics and vaccines.

That is why, I am determined to continue stepping up EU efforts to increase gender equality in education, culture, sports and research and innovation. The latest “She Figures” report, our flagship publication monitoring the state of play on gender equality in research and innovation, indicates a persisting under-representation of women in research and innovation. All disciplines considered, only a third of researchers in the EU are women and only 15% in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Even more striking, women represent less than 10% of patent holders, only 8% of European startups are founded by all-women teams and only 25% are founded by a team that includes at least one woman.

A changing mindset

We need more innovative ways of tackling gender stereotypes among the younger generations. That is why on International Women’s Day 2020 I started a yearlong social media campaign – #EUwomen4future. Since then, I have had the privilege to highlight the remarkable achievements from European women in research, innovation, education, culture and sport. Because of this campaign, a database of talented women from across Europe remains and we will continue supporting and recognizing them and all other amazing women that have made an impact.

Another concrete example of how we are addressing gender stereotypes in science is the project ‘Nobel Run’. This EU-funded project designed a board game where players have to manage a research team, hire doctoral students and researchers, publish articles and get funding through international projects, with the help of top women scientists and inventors. The goal? Winning the Nobel Prize.

A bright future

This is the moment to reaffirm our commitment and take the next steps towards true gender equality. That is why we made sure that integration of the gender dimension into the design of projects funded under Horizon Europe, our new EU research and innovation programme, will be a standard requirement. Furthermore, having a gender equality plan in place will become an eligibility criterion for public bodies, research organizations and higher education establishments.

Now let us talk business. As I mentioned before, when it comes to Europe’s booming technology industry the overwhelming majority of start-ups are founded by all-male teams. We can and must do better. That is why today, on International Women’s Day, I am proud to announce “Women TechEU”, a brand new initiative, spearheaded by the European Innovation Council, to support women-led deep-tech startups, and give them a boost to grow their company into the deep tech champions of tomorrow.

These actions are complementary to those from other EU programmes, such as ERASMUS+, with strong synergies with the transformative agenda for higher education institutions, the European Universities alliances, and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology – which will offer training in digital and STEM skills to 40,000 schoolgirls.

We need more women talents for better science, research and innovation. It is vital for ensuring sustainable and inclusive twin digital and green transitions, and recovery from the pandemic. I call upon all research organisations, universities, businesses, governments and citizens to join me in realising more inclusive, equal and better research and innovation.

What is research misconduct?

By SalM on March 11, 2021 in News

In Sweden, a national code takes 44,000 words to define research misconduct and discuss scientific values. Next door, Norway’s equivalent is a brisk 900 words, little more than in this news article. And it’s not just the size of the codes that differs across Europe: A new analysis of scientific integrity policies in 32 nations has found widely varying standards and definitions for research misconduct itself, despite a 2017 Europe-wide code of conduct intended to align them.

Research ethicists say the differences threaten to create confusion and disputes for international scientific collaborations. Teams often include members working in different countries; if a team member is accused of research misconduct, which country’s rules should apply? The decision affects who can be held responsible, and which behaviors are considered unethical. “It really is a difficult issue,” says Nicole Föger, managing director of the Austrian Agency for Research Integrity.

The mismatched standards have already led to practical problems, Föger says. She cites a case of an Austrian postdoctoral researcher who applied Austrian ethical standards while working at a university in another European country. The Austrian standards—mandated by the postdoc’s Austrian research funding contract—forbid “honorary authorship” for researchers who did not contribute substantially to a paper. But after leaving a senior researcher at this university off a paper because of a lack of contribution, the postdoc faced a university investigation and was found to have been in the wrong.

The 2017 European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, developed by the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities, was designed to be easy for European countries to adopt, offering a nonbinding framework that they could add to as needed to fit their circumstances. It updated an unwieldy 2011 code and was more concise, Föger says. The 2017 version encourages core principles, including honesty, respect, and accountability, describes good research practices, and gives specific examples of misconduct.

But pickup of the European framework has been spotty, according to a study by Hugh Desmond, a philosopher of science at the University of Antwerp, and KU Leuven bioethicist Kris Dierickx. Of 32 countries in the analysis, only two—Bulgaria and Luxembourg—have adopted the European Code wholesale, the authors reported last month in Bioethics. There’s just one policy that all countries have agreed on: that fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism of data and findings constitute research misconduct.

Beyond that, the national policies stray significantly from the European model. “If they seek to rephrase things, that’s already significant in itself,” Desmond says—a signal that the authors of the document intended something different from the Europe-wide code. Many do not address behaviors, besides fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism, that the European code defines as misconduct, such as financial conflicts of interest, manipulating authorship, and self-plagiarism. Some countries say misconduct requires an intention to deceive; others define it as any violation of the code, even negligent ones. Some nations hold all co-authors jointly responsible for fraudulent work, whereas others don’t specify who is responsible.

But the study’s method overestimates differences between countries, says Daniele Fanelli, a scientific misconduct researcher at the London School of Economics. Just because wordings differ slightly from the European code doesn’t mean they don’t endorse the same underlying principles, Fanelli says. Another limitation of the study: Many countries—including Austria—have not yet updated their policies in response to the 2017 code.

The findings echo an ongoing debate in the United States about how research misconduct should be defined, says Lisa Rasmussen, a bioethicist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. In 2000, the U.S government defined misconduct as fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism, but some researchers have argued since that other behaviors—such as sexual harassment—should be included.

The practical problems raised by a lack of consensus aren’t limited to Europe, says David Resnik, a bioethicist at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The potential for serious complications with international collaborations is a worry lurking in the background that “really hasn’t gotten the attention that it deserves,” he says.

Global alignment of standards and policies would likely be even more difficult than it has proved to be in Europe, Desmond says. And with calls for harsher penalties and even criminalization for misconduct, he worries the complications caused by policy mismatch may become “a much more pressing problem.”

Source: sciencemag.org

Arkema Launches Global Start-up Connect Program for Responsible Innovation

By SalM on March 8, 2021 in News

Arkema (Colombes, France) has recently launched its Start-up Connect initiative, a new program which invites startup companies specializing in advanced materials from around the world to join forces with Arkema to establish a privileged research collaboration and benefit from the Group’s support and technological experience. By providing technical or financial support for these innovations, Start-up Connect will be a strategic component of Arkema’s development within an ecosystem of responsible innovation.

The program will combine the dynamism of small, agile and innovative organizations with the Group’s expertise in specialty materials to develop the innovations of tomorrow, Arkema says. Further, the company will be providing these startups with its international reach, its in-depth knowledge of markets and applications and its ability to develop safe and high-performance chemistry. Arkema says it will offer access to the scientific and technical resources of its 15 R&D centers in France, the U.S. and Asia, facilitating the pooling of expertise, innovation and economic development at the heart of these regions. All strategic partnerships defined within Start-up Connect may range from technical collaboration to financial support, expertise, or mentoring.

Arkema has also chosen to devote the vast majority of its innovation partnerships to sustainable growth. To achieve this, the innovations that are selected must be linked to Arkema’s innovation platforms: natural resource management, lightweight materials and design, new energies, electronics solutions and home efficiency and insulation.

“Our materials provide concrete solutions to societal and ecological issues, but the major challenges of tomorrow cannot be addressed by our teams alone, regardless of their talent,” states Christian Collette, Arkema’s R&D vice president. “Our Start-up Connect program must therefore attract innovators from all over the world to work on solving these challenges alongside our researchers. In doing so, we want to create an impetus, a momentum, to bring transformative projects to maturity.”

EU to roll out new approach to managing Horizon Europe and R&D policy

By SalM on March 4, 2021 in News

The European Commission’s research directorate (DG-RTD) is to focus more on policy development and work more closely with member states in the reform of national research systems and implementation of the European Research Area (ERA), following a reshuffle of the organisation that will see oversight of the implementation of EU research programmes delegated to a string of new executive agencies.

Jean-Eric Paquet, head of DG-RTD told Science|Business the restructuring will help the Commission align research and innovation policy with global challenges. The new organigram was approved by the college of commissioners last week and will come into force on 1 April.

Paquet said the latest changes are a fine tuning of a reshuffle he initiated in 2019. “There is a large degree of continuity with the effort of two years ago,” he said.

The reorganisation also completes a process started back in 2007, when the first executive agencies – bodies set up by the EU to carry out specific technical, scientific or administrative tasks – were created. These were the European Research Council, handling fundamental research, and the Research Executive Agency, responsible for managing parts of EU research programmes. “The Research Executive Agency is now expanding its remit,” said Paquet.

“The strategic choice which was proposed by [EU research commissioner] Mariya Gabriel and myself is that with entrusting executive agencies with the implementation of the projects, we can then focus even further on research policy,” said Paquet. “We are not losing the deep link to projects because executive agencies are part of the Commission.”

The need to focus more on policy development and to help member states reform and strengthen their research and innovation systems was first floated by former director general Robert-Jan Smits. He proposed moving staff responsible for implementing projects to executive agencies, reducing headcount in DG-RTD by one third and allowing DG-RTD to concentrate on policy development.

In the event, 184 people, or 15% of DG-RTD staff, will move to executive agencies. The Commission has done a cost benefit analysis, and while Paquet stressed the main motivation is not to cut costs, he noted agencies have greater freedom to employ people on fixed term contracts, rather than recruiting highly-paid career EU public servants. “The idea is indeed to [make] savings,” said Paquet.

Research stakeholders are worried that the reshuffle will put a dent in DG-RTD’s influence, but Paquet says the revamped organisation is intended to help the directorate shape policies, not to diminish its power.

The main changes

The reshuffle will see DG-RTD downsize from 50 to 43 units, while the number of executive agencies will grow from 29 to 48.

The previous organigram had three health units, now it only has two. Also, instead of two units working on materials, DG-RTD will have one industrial transformation unit, as project implementation moves to a new executive agency.

Work on implementing research infrastructures, materials of tomorrow, coal and steel, now will be handed to several executive agencies, Paquet said. The European Innovation Council (EIC) will become a fully-fledged agency.

The health directorate has also been shrunk significantly, with at least 50 people moving to a new Health and Digital Executive Agency.

DG RTD’s department that oversees contracting and payments, has been shrunk to three units with one financial team instead of three.

The former directorate for programming will become a common policy centre, supporting the entire research and innovation system of the Commission. Its staff will help executive agencies implement the Horizon Europe programme. “That’s really the engine room of research policy,” said Paquet.

The outreach directorate has now been reorganised under the name of “ERA and Innovation” to reflect recent efforts by Gabriel to convince member states to get behind the Commission’s plan to create a single market for research under ERA.

Paquet hopes the new RTD organisation will convey the message that Horizon Europe is the engine of EU research and innovation, but that the Commission is also there to support member states in boosting R&D capabilities and attracting and retaining talent for a successful revamp of ERA.

Changing How We Evaluate Research Is Difficult – but Not Impossible

By SalM on March 2, 2021 in News

Declarations can inspire revolutionary change, but the high ideals inspiring the revolution must be harnessed to clear guidance and tangible goals to drive effective reform. When the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) was published in 2013, it catalogued the problems caused by the use of journal-based indicators to evaluate the performance of individual researchers, and provided 18 recommendations to improve such evaluations. Since then, DORA has inspired many in the academic community to challenge long-standing research assessment practices, and over 150 universities and research institutions have signed the declaration and committed to reform.

But experience has taught us that this is not enough to change how research is assessed. Given the scale and complexity of the task, additional measures are called for. We have to support institutions in developing the processes and resources needed to implement responsible research assessment practices. That is why DORA has transformed itself from a website collecting signatures to a broader campaigning initiative that can provide practical guidance. This will help institutions to seize the opportunities created by the momentum now building across the research community to reshape how we evaluate research.

Systemic change requires fundamental shifts in policies, processes and power structures, as well as in deeply held norms and values. Those hoping to drive such change need to understand all the stakeholders in the system: in particular, how do they interact with and depend on each other, and how do they respond to internal and external pressures? To this end DORA and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) convened a meeting in October 2019 that brought together researchers, university administrators, librarians, funders, scientific societies, non-profits and other stakeholders to discuss these questions. Those taking part in the meeting (https://sfdora.org/assessingresearch/agenda/) discussed emerging policies and practices in research assessment, and how they could be aligned with the academic missions of different institutions.

The discussion helped to identify what institutional change could look like, to surface new ideas, and to formulate practical guidance for research institutions looking to embrace reform. This guidance – summarised below – provides a framework for action that consists of four broad goals: i) understand obstacles that prevent change; ii) experiment with different ideas and approaches at all levels; iii) create a shared vision for research assessment when reviewing and revising policies and practices; iv) communicate that vision on campus and externally to other research institutions.

Understand obstacles that prevent change

Most academic reward systems rely on proxy measures of quality to assess researchers. This is problematic when there is an over-reliance on these proxy measures, particularly so if aggregate measures are used that mask the variations between individuals and individual outputs. Journal-based metrics and the H-index, alongside qualitative notions of publisher prestige and institutional reputation, present obstacles to change that have become deeply entrenched in academic evaluation.

This has happened because such measures contain an appealing kernel of meaning (though the appeal only holds so long as one operates within the confines of the law of averages) and because they provide a convenient shortcut for busy evaluators. Additionally, the over-reliance on proxy measures that tend to be focused on research can discourage researchers from working on other activities that are also important to the mission of most research institutions, such as teaching, mentoring, and work that has societal impact.

The use of proxy measures also preserves biases against scholars who still feel the force of historical and geographical exclusion from the research community. Progress toward gender and race equality has been made in recent years, but the pace of change remains unacceptably slow. A recent study of basic science departments in US medical schools suggests that under current practices, a level of faculty diversity representative of the national population will not be achieved until 2080 (Gibbs et al., 2016).

Rethinking research assessment therefore means addressing the privilege that exists in academia, and taking proper account of how luck and opportunity can influence decision-making more than personal characteristics such as talent, skill and tenacity. As a community, we need to take a hard look – without averting our gaze from the prejudices that attend questions of race, gender, sexuality, or disability – at what we really mean when we talk about ‘success’ and ‘excellence’ if we are to find answers congruent with our highest aspirations.

This is by no means easy. Many external and internal pressures stand in the way of meaningful change. For example, institutions have to wrestle with university rankings as part of research assessment reform, because stepping away from the surrogate, selective, and incomplete ‘measures’ of performance totted up by rankers poses a reputational threat. Grant funding, which is commonly seen as an essential signal of researcher success, is clearly crucial for many universities and research institutions: however, an overemphasis on grants in decisions about hiring, promotion and tenure incentivises researchers to discount other important parts of their job. The huge mental health burden of hyper-competition is also a problem that can no longer be ignored (Wellcome, 2020a).

Experiment with different ideas and approaches at all levels

Culture change is often driven by the collective force of individual actions. These actions take many forms, but spring from a common desire to champion responsible research assessment practices. At the DORA/HHMI meeting Needhi Bhalla (University of California, Santa Cruz) advocated strategies that have been proven to increase equity in faculty hiring – including the use of diversity statements to assess whether a candidate is aligned with the department’s equity mission – as part of a more holistic approach to researcher evaluation (Bhalla, 2019). She also described how broadening the scope of desirable research interests in the job descriptions for faculty positions in chemistry at the University of Michigan resulted in a two-fold increase of applicants from underrepresented groups (Stewart and Valian, 2018). As a further step, Bhalla’s department now includes untenured assistant professors in tenure decisions: this provides such faculty with insights into the tenure process.

The actions of individual researchers, however exemplary, are dependent on career stage and position: commonly, those with more authority have more influence. As chair of the cell biology department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Sandra Schmid used her position to revise their hiring procedure to focus on key research contributions, rather than publication or grant metrics, and to explore how the applicant’s future plans might best be supported by the department. According to Schmid, the department’s job searches were given real breadth and depth by the use of Skype interviews (which enhanced the shortlisting process by allowing more candidates to be interviewed) and by designating faculty advocates from across the department for each candidate (Schmid, 2017). Another proposal for shifting the attention of evaluators from proxies to the content of an applicant’s papers and other contributions is to instruct applicants for grants and jobs to remove journal names from CVs and publication lists (Lobet, 2020).

The seeds planted by individual action must be encouraged to grow, so that discussions about research assessment can reach across the entire institution. This is rarely straightforward, given the size and organisational autonomy within modern universities, which is why some have set up working groups to review their research assessment policies and practices. At the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and Imperial College London, for example, the working groups produced action plans or recommendations that have been adopted by the university and are now being implemented (UOC, 2019Imperial College, 2020). University Medical Centre (UMC) Utrecht has gone a step further: in addition to revising its processes and criteria for promotion and for internal evaluation of research programmes (Benedictus et al., 2016), it is undertaking an in-depth evaluation of how the changes are impacting their researchers (see below).

To increase their chances of success these working groups need to ensure that women and other historically excluded groups have a voice. It is also important that the viewpoints of administrators, librarians, tenured and non-tenured faculty members, postdocs, and graduate students are all heard. This level of inclusion is important because when communities impacted by new practices are involved in their design, they are more likely to adopt them. But the more views there are around the table, the more difficult it can be to reach a consensus. Everyone brings their own frame-of-reference, their own ideas, and their own experiences. To help ensure that working groups do not become mired in minutiae, their objectives should be defined early in the process and should be simple, clear and realistic.

Create a shared vision

Aligning policies and practices with an institution’s mission

The re-examination of an institution’s policies and procedures can reveal the real priorities that may be glossed over in aspirational mission statements. Although the journal impact factor (JIF) is widely discredited as a tool for research assessment, more than 40% of research-intensive universities in the United States and Canada explicitly mention the JIF in review, promotion, and tenure documents (McKiernan et al., 2019). The number of institutions where the JIF is not mentioned in such documents, but is understood informally to be a performance criterion, is not known. A key task for working groups is therefore to review how well the institution’s values, as expressed in its mission statement, are embedded in its hiring, promotion, and tenure practices. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are increasingly advertised as core values, but work in these areas is still often lumped into the service category, which is the least recognised type of academic contribution when it comes to promotion and tenure (Schimanski and Alperin, 2018).

A complicating factor here is that while mission statements publicly signal organisational values, the commitments entailed by those statements are delivered by individuals, who are prone to unacknowledged biases, such as the perception gap between what people say they value and what they think others hold most dear. For example, when Meredith Niles and colleagues surveyed faculty at 55 institutions, they found that academics value readership most when selecting where to publish their work (Niles et al., 2019). But when asked how their peers decide to publish, a disconnect was revealed: most faculty members believe their colleagues make choices based on the prestige of the journal or publisher. Similar perception gaps are likely to be found when other performance proxies (such as grant funding and student satisfaction) are considered.

Bridging perception gaps requires courage and honesty within any institution – to break with the metrics game and create evaluation processes that are visibly infused with the organisation’s core values. To give one example, HHMI tries to advance basic biomedical research for the benefit of humanity by setting evaluation criteria that are focused on quality and impact. To increase transparency, these criteria are now published (HHMI, 2019). As one element of the review, HHMI asks investigators to “choose five of their most significant articles and provide a brief statement for each that describes the significance and impact of that contribution.” It is worth noting that both published and preprint articles can be included. This emphasis on a handful of papers helps focus the review evaluation on the quality and impact of the investigator’s work.

Arguably, universities face a stiffer challenge here. Institutions striving to improve their research assessment practices will likely be casting anxious looks at what their competitors are up to. However, one of the hopeful lessons from the October meeting is that less courage should be required – and progress should be faster – if institutions come together to collaborate and establish a shared vision for the reform of research evaluation.

Finding conceptual clarity

Conceptual clarity in hiring, promotion, and tenure policies is another area for institutions to examine when aligning practices with values (Hatch, 2019). Generic terms like ‘world-class’ or ‘excellent’ appear to provide standards for quality; however, they are so broad that they allow evaluators to apply their own definitions, creating room for bias. This is especially the case when, as is still likely, there is a lack of diversity in decision-making panels. The use of such descriptors can also perpetuate the Matthew Effect, a phenomenon in which resources accrue to those who are already well resourced. Moore et al., 2017 have critiqued the rhetoric of ‘excellence’ and propose instead focusing evaluation on more clearly defined concepts such as soundness and capacity-building. (See also Belcher and Palenberg, 2018 for a discussion of the many meanings of the words ‘outputs’, ‘outcomes’ and ‘impacts’ as applied to research in the field of international development).

Source: science.thewire.inc

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