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European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
"Science 2.0: Europe can lead the next scientific transformation"
EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) Keynote Speech
Copenhagen, 24 June 2014
Minister Nielsen, ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here. It is nearly two years since I addressed the ESOF Conference in Dublin.
That speech came at precisely the half-way point of my five-year mandate as European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science.
Speaking then to the ESOF plenary gave me a chance to articulate my very firm belief in science as the basis for better lives and a better economy.
I also talked about the European Commission's plans to reform how we finance research and innovation and the need to invest more in the best science even with severe pressure on the EU budget.
And I spoke about putting research at the heart of EU policy-making.
Two years on, I believe that we have delivered on that agenda, with the biggest achievement being Horizon 2020, which will invest nearly 80 billion Euro in research and innovation between now and 2020.
Of course, it hasn't all been plain sailing. Far from it - It has been a long and sometimes difficult process to get to where we are today.
When I became the European Commissioner in 2010, research and innovation were not discussed in the European Council as often as they deserved.
I have to thank my colleagues in the research and innovation 'families' in the European Commission for working together to push these issues further up the political agenda.
And I also wish to applaud the research community for making its case so cogently and persuasively.
I'd like to take a moment to tell you a story about just how forceful scientists can be.
One of the most exciting events at the beginning of my mandate was attending my first Nobel Prize ceremony in December 2010.
It's certainly the biggest event in the scientific calendar - with the exception of ESOF of course!
The gala banquet was a huge and lavish affair, with over a thousand people in the magnificent setting of Stockholm City Hall, a jewel of Sweden's national romantic architecture.
I was very excited at the prospect of meeting so many leading scientists and I was also very proud that one of the two laureates for physics, Konstantin Novoselov, had previously been funded by the ERC.
But my enjoyment was short-lived. In his acceptance speech, the physics co-laureate, Professor André Geim, dropped a bombshell, launching a bitter attack on excessive bureaucracy in EU research funding.
The entire room applauded! You can imagine how I felt – I wanted the ground to swallow me up.
However, I decided to turn a negative into a positive, and this experience only strengthened my resolve to tackle the problems, to simplify funding and provide the best conditions in Europe for excellent research and innovation.
The landscape has changed hugely since 2010. Research and innovation are at the heart of the Europe 2020 programme and heads of state and government have had two thematic discussions on these topics in the European Council.
This new political impetus has been crucial in delivering our agenda.
The increase in funding for Horizon 2020 is proof of Member States' immense trust in the scientific community - trust that you will play a major role, if not the role in boosting growth and jobs.
And trust that you will help us find the answers to the biggest challenges faced by society.
For me, an excellent example of science's engagement with real-life problems is the work of the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership that I saw first hand in South Africa in 2012, where European Member States are working with their African partners to tackle tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS.
More recently, I had the chance to visit CERN and learn from the scientists themselves how they are pushing forward our knowledge of the fundamental questions in physics – 'life, the universe and everything' no less!
Indeed, it has been a privilege for me to meet and work with many leading scientists from around the world.
But I have also been very inspired by meeting trailblazers like the winners of the EU Women Innovators Prize; young researchers boosting their careers with ERC Starting Grants, and the very youngest scientists in our schools and colleges - the Generation Z teenagers who are determined to change the world through science.
If I'm sounding a little nostalgic about my time in the European Commission, it could be because it is only a few months until the end of my mandate.
But I don't want to dwell on the past, and I am certainly not slowing up just yet.
Just two weeks ago I launched with Vice President Olli Rehn a Communication on Research and Innovation as Sources of Renewed Growth.
It underlines the importance of investing in research and innovation as the basis for competitiveness, growth and jobs. The Communication also sets out the priority reforms to ensure that public investments get the best value for taxpayers' money. It will be discussed by both research ministers and finance ministers in the autumn.
And today, I want to take this opportunity to look forward to potentially far- reaching changes in the way we do science and research.
Predicting such paradigm shifts can be a dangerous business. Many of the technology and social forecasts from forty or fifty years ago have proved to be way off target.
So it might be a bit risky to suggest that research's modus operandi is on the brink of radical change.
However, it can't be denied that we're seeing a transformation in how science is organised and how research is performed.
This transformation is being driven by digital technologies, the globalisation of the scientific community, the demand for more responsive science and by the need to address urgently the complex societal challenges of our times.
I am not a scientist. But as a politician I am positively evangelical about the power of science to improve and enrich our lives and to sustain our economy.
So, I am fascinated to see the possible impacts of new developments…
…New developments such as Citizen Science, which can enrich research efforts with bottom-up input.
Or Open Data, which improves the transparency and reproducibility of research.
Or Open Access, which is putting research results into the hands of more people who can use them.
Or alternative metrics that could help measure the impact of research in a much more comprehensive way, while data-intensive science could enable the social sciences and humanities to tackle a whole new range of issues.
Because of the holistic impact of these and other trends, 'Science 2.0' is the commonly-used label to describe them, but many other terms can describe the overall concept, such as Open Science, Digital Science or Networked Science.
This 'opening up' could affect every step in the research cycle, from agenda setting and the inception of research, to how it is performed, to how findings are published, and how the results are used and by whom.
It could also affect how we evaluate the quality and impact of research, and it might affect how we assess scientific integrity and risk. It will also affect who is involved in the production and the use of knowledge.
Of course, it is scientists first and foremost who will be most affected. The changes are coming from the bottom up, led by scientists themselves.
You are the ones who are pushing it forward and who are best placed to see the benefits and the potential problems.
The scientific community is self-organising in nature and it is certainly not the role of policymakers to step in to tell you what to do.
But we, as policymakers at European level, need a better understanding of the dynamics of Science 2.0 and its possible impacts on science and research policy in particular. We want to discuss with the wider public whether we have identified the key drivers and constraints, the incentives and benefits.
And that is why we will launch within the next fortnight a wide-ranging public consultation to increase awareness of the issues, to understand the views and concerns of everyone involved and to fine-tune our own analysis.
This consultation is important because Science 2.0 is happening now, and we need to be better prepared for it than we were for Web 2.0.
Though we had all the players in place, we were caught by surprise and lost our leading role in areas such as mobile communications.
I think it's a very telling comparison. User-generated content, such as the social media and blogging of Web 2.0, have transformed people’s ability not just to find information online but to edit, publish, share and collaborate.
Far more people became not just users of information but creators of new content. The same will be true for scientists, scientific data and research.
Science 2.0 is beginning to thrive, thanks to its users, and without any top-down interference. We must ensure that creativity and entrepreneurship are not stifled.
But we would be failing as policy makers if we did not discuss, with you, whether any policy intervention is needed or desirable in order to remove barriers and actively encourage these new developments.
And let's not forget that since around 35% of research investment in the EU is public money, public sector funders, including the European Commission, also have a stake in the new developments.
It's our job to get the best value for money and the biggest impacts from the public money invested in research.
And we have a responsibility to see that the research results are used for the greater good of the economy and society at large.
I am counting on you to take part in the public consultation, so let me now discuss the issues that it will address.
Science 2.0 is a huge and wide-ranging concept. I think it helps to group the issues around several themes.
At its simplest, we can think of it as more sharing, more people and more data.
- First of all: 'More sharing' concerns the explosion in the amount of research being produced. Digital technologies are also changing how scientists collaborate and how and when they publish, with implications for how the how careers in research are evaluated.
- The second theme is 'More people'. This refers to the growth in the number of people producing science, not just research professionals, but also the non-scientists who are getting involved in the research process and improving its quality and its relevance to society.
- Thirdly, 'More data' refers to the possibilities opened up by new data-intensive ways of performing research.
So let's consider first of all the impacts of 'more sharing' on scientific production.
It's a cliché, but it's true: the internet is transforming society. We now have a generation of Digital Natives who are living and working online, indeed sharing their lives online – and they're by no means the only ones.
The internet and digital technologies are already changing how research is done, from the collection of data, to how scientists collaborate, to how they publish their results.
These technologies mean that a truly global scientific community can develop, collaborating more easily in a particular field or working together on a complex societal challenge. It will also be easier to access specialist expertise to tackle very specific problems.
And alongside greater collaboration, we are now seeing a trend towards greater openness in the research process - from open research collaboration to Open Access to the results of research and scientific data.
We have already seen this, for example, with the Human Genome Project where scientists shared data prior to publishing, or even refrained from publishing in order to map the genome as quickly as possible.
Science 2.0 also has the potential to improve the scientific method by letting researchers share and verify data and findings at an early stage, before they publish, for example through sites like Research Gate and Mendeley.
On the one hand, this could mean writing erroneously and making mistakes public. On the other, sharing information on failures can help others to avoid dead-ends and redirect research into more promising areas. It can also make the whole scientific process more transparent.
Researchers are also using dedicated social media to connect and share information. Nearly nine million academics have joined the US-based Academia platform to share their research, monitor its impact and follow the work of colleagues.
Vice-President Kroes and I have been very supportive of the trend towards more openness in the research system.
New approaches are addressing thorny issues such as the slowness of the publication process, many researchers' frustration with the dominance of peer review and the challenge of replicating research results.
A recent independent study produced for the European Commission showed that the global shift to Open Access to research publications has reached a tipping point. Around 50% of scientific papers published across nearly 40 countries in 2011 are now available for free.
Clearly, Open Access is here to stay. Making research results more available contributes to better and more efficient science, stimulates innovation and strengthens our knowledge-based economy. This is why we have made Open Access to peer reviewed publications the default position across Horizon 2020.
More recently, we launched a limited pilot on Open Research Data in selected areas of Horizon 2020. It aims to improve and maximise access to and re-use of research data generated by projects.
However, we recognise that there may be good reasons not to make data openly available: to protect IPR in order to develop a product; for reasons of privacy, data protection, confidentiality or national security, or to ensure that the main goals of the project aren't jeopardised.
I know how important the issue of data protection is to scientists. The Commission proposed a nuanced approached that was acceptable to the scientific community. In my view, we struck the right balance between privacy of personal data and its use for the greater public good in research.
These are just some of the trends that will have major implications for the current system.
And let's not forget that, even if technologies permit new ways of working, they will only be taken up if there are enough incentives to do so. That's why we need to consider the possible impact of these developments on scientists' careers.
The most important way for a researcher to establish their reputation is through peer-reviewed publication in journals: the idea being that you either 'Publish or Perish'!
However, as discussions in several Member States have demonstrated, some scientists consider that the system is too limited.
That is why we are seeing the development of metrics that underpin alternative reputation systems. I'm thinking, for example, of Research Gate's Impact Factor, Altmetric.com or Impact Story. These all take into account the impact of scientific documents in social media.
The advent of Science 2.0 may indeed herald changes to 'reputation systems', but in my view their main aim must remain to identify and reward excellent people and excellent work.
Like any big change to well-established practices, there will be some uncertainties. But we can navigate these changes if we stick to a number of tried and tested standards. In my view, there should be no concessions on excellence. And the way we establish this is through peer review.
In a world of abundant knowledge it might become even more important than before. However, new ways of determining quality could enhance the peer review process and give researchers a richer evaluation of their work.
Nonetheless, as our global scientific system becomes more responsive to the 'grand challenges', scientific excellence and impact could increasingly be assessed together.
This brings me to the second trend that I want to discuss: the increase in the number of people participating, whether performing research, or addressed by it, or simply curious about finding out more.
The number of scientific institutions is growing rapidly, not just in Europe, but across the world.
At the same time, the number of students is rocketing – according to a World Bank report last year, for instance, the number of college graduates in China alone could swell by 200 million over the next two decades.
With the huge growth in the number of scientists, so research output is growing exponentially.
And Science 2.0 is also making it easier for other people to get involved in the production of science. Citizen Science refers to the collaboration between professional scientists and citizens, usually people who have a particular stake in the outcome of the research.
Citizens and civil society organisations are also getting involved in raising funds and setting agendas. Patient groups are helping to fund and inform research on specific diseases.
New financing is coming from philanthropic organisations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and, increasingly, via crowd funding.
This direct involvement of stakeholders, together with scientists' ability to communicate directly with the public through blogs and social media, reflect a wider trend of embedding science in society.
We have already seen how new media have revolutionised public and political discourse in other areas and now they are democratising science. This raises many questions:
Does this mean that we are moving from a long-established system of a happy few to a more open 'republic of knowledge'? If so, what are the expectations on each side?
How can we ensure that citizen involvement is not simply a resource to be used by researchers to enrich their data, but in fact a two-way street, with citizens also taking part in the research process and, more broadly, giving their views on the direction that research agendas could take?
Science 2.0 has the potential to open everything up as regards involving the public in the scientific process.
Tools like the Citizens' Science Alliance's Zooniverse portal are already demonstrating how thousands of people can be involved in conducting the research itself, in areas as diverse as astronomy, ecology or climate science.
Getting more citizens involved in science can only be a good thing, and they can contribute not just to the research itself, but also to determining priorities.
For example, the VOICES project, financed by the EU under the 7th Framework Programme for Research, brought citizens and scientists together to discuss and set research agendas, and has fed directly into the definition of topics in the first Horizon 2020 work programme.
Or take some time to discover the EU-supported SOCIENTIZE project which is presenting its work here at ESOF. They are using digital tools to get thousands of people participating in research, for example by asking them to report if they catch flu in order to monitor outbreaks and predict possible epidemics.
Initiatives like these are very good ways to involve citizens in science. It's an important element in developing Responsible Research and Innovation that meets the needs and expectations of wider society.
Policymakers, industry and citizens are relying on science to deliver and to provide the insights and information on which decisions can be made. And they demand accountability and transparency.
A major factor in the reliability of research is the quality and availability of data.
This brings me to the third and final theme I wish to examine: Data-Intensive Science.
In 2013 the research organisation SINTEF reported that 90% of all the data in the world had been generated over the previous two years.
Digital technologies are both creating more data and giving us the tools to make sense of it.
This has huge implications not just for the scientific method, but also for the economy.
Big and Open Data can be an engine of growth. They have been estimated to potentially add 1.9% to the EU's GDP by 2020. The gains can be derived from productivity increases, the opening up of public sector data and better decision making thanks to data-driven processes.
Text and Data Mining – using computers to discover and extract knowledge from unstructured data – also has huge economic potential due to labour productivity gains.
But the more exciting prospect for us is TDM's contribution to better science. Data-driven science can pick up correlations and spot the significant patterns and information in a sea of information. And it will make data itself citable, not just the resulting research – so someone gets credit for their data when it is reused elsewhere.
You will certainly be aware of the discussions over the last two years on Text and Data Mining.
My colleagues and I in the European Commission are keenly aware of your concerns. There is a growing sense amongst policy makers that the status quo is no longer an option, not least because our competitors outside the EU are moving on.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Europe has been the birthplace of the great scientific transformations: the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.
We must ensure that we are at the forefront of the next paradigm shift.
The European Union has a real chance to become a global leader here. I can say this with confidence because we're already pioneers in so many areas.
European scientific publishers are leading experiments in open and data-intensive services. Mendeley and Research Gate, both based in Europe, are already global players in social networking for scientists.
Research-funding bodies such as the Wellcome Trust, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the European Commission are promoting Open Access policies, while some of the leading citizen science initiatives have originated here.
At European level, we urgently need a better understanding of the current changes and how people view them.
So we hope that the public consultation will trigger a Europe-wide debate.
Our online consultation will be launched very soon. It will be based on a paper setting out the issues and will remain open until the end of September.
Then, the European Commission will sort and analyse the data prior to discussing the results with stakeholders in a series of workshops in the autumn.
Those discussions will then feed into a paper on policy implications that the Commission aims to publish by the end of the year.
I can't prejudge what position the European Commission will take – nor whether it will decide that policy interventions are necessary or useful.
But I can tell you that the Directorate General for Research and Innovation and the Commission's Joint Research Centre are planning to set up a monitoring system to gather systematic data on the constantly evolving trends, drivers, and impacts.
And I can also guarantee that you, as scientists, will continue to have the European Commission's full support for your work.
Let me be very clear.
Neither I, my services, nor the European Commission have any pre-determined agenda here.
We're holding this consultation to make sure we do the right thing as policy makers and we're waiting for the results before we take any decisions. And doing the right thing can also mean doing nothing! You have to let us know if that's the best policy.
And that brings me to my last word: if you're not crazy about the term 'Science 2.0', the last part of the consultation lets you suggest a better name!
But whatever term we prefer, there is no doubt that we are on the brink of some very interesting and important changes – changes that I hope will strengthen and enhance the practice of science and that will cement its position at the heart of our society.