A charter for researchersWho are researchers? “Specialists working on the conception or creation of new knowledge, products, processes and systems and on the management of the projects concerned.” This commonly accepted definition covers all those who, in one way or another, are engaged in R&D – from fundamental to applied research, and including teaching and innovation. Whatever their speciality or status, many of these share a sense of unease, sometimes openly expressed to the authorities in the various European countries. They stress their fragile status and careers, the temporary contracts, the poor rewards, the reduced public funding in many areas, and the time they are forced to spend on related activities such as management, the search for funds or consultancy. It is the combination of all these causes of discontent that is resulting in a lack of interest in research careers. It is also a situation that flies in the face of the Union’s stated aim of awarding priority to a knowledge-based society, technological innovation, and human resources and intelligence at the heart of global competition.
To help resolve these contradictions, in March the Commission published a recommendation to encourage observance of the new European Charter for Researchers and Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers. The charter comprises “a set of general principles and requirements which specifies the roles, responsibilities and entitlements of researchers and their employers or funding organisations.” It covers prospects for the development of ‘sustained’ careers, measures to encourage and facilitate mobility based on a coherent policy, and the implementation of recruitment procedures that are open, transparent and equal in terms of gender and ethnic origin. The Commission also stresses the importance of social security coverage – in particular, the transfer of pension rights from one country or one employer to another, which is often a very restricting obstacle to mobility. A number of articles confirm the importance of research freedom, ethical principles and professional responsibility, while others deal with good practices, career structures, the dissemination of results, and the moral commitment of researchers to society, in particular in bringing their work to the attention of the greatest number of people.
The recommendations addressed to employers concern recognition of the profession and wages, non-discrimination and working conditions (especially reconciling work and family life). The need for a “representative gender balance at all levels of staff, including at supervisory or managerial level” is given particular emphasis. Research training at all stages in a career, intellectual property rights, and the role of teaching (in evaluation systems, for example) are all included. Finally, the code of conduct requests that account be taken of mobility experience and a varied career.
What is new as regards research policy in the Treaty on the EU Constitution that the Member States are now being asked to ratify? First, there is the restating and overall clarification of the basic principles concerning this area of EU competence. In addition, a number of new elements have been introduced.
Research in the draft EU Constitution
The concept of the European Research Area (ERA) is defined as the real basis on which the objectives are reaffirmed: the dissemination of knowledge, the development of global and industrial competitiveness, and a response to research needs in the Union’s policies as a whole. All these actions continue to be incorporated in the multi-annual Framework Programmes – adopted by co-decision between the Council and European Parliament – which set out clearly the aims and the means, while allowing sufficient flexibility to respond to changing circumstances. This linchpin of research policy covers co-operation in implementing specific programmes, the opening up to international partners, the dissemination and exploitation of results, and the training and mobility of researchers.
In addition to strengthening coherence and co-operation within the ERA, Article III-250 states that the Commission’s action can take the form of launching and participating in initiatives to coordinate Union and Member States’ policy, with the European Parliament being kept fully informed. Another Article (III-252) introduces the possibility of the Union participating in supplementary programmes undertaken by Member States. Finally, Article III-253 makes provision for the creation of joint undertakings.
To find out more
The new provisions of the Constitution are dealt with in Part III (“The procedures and functioning of the Union”) – chapter III ("Policies in other areas”). Research is included under section 9 of this chapter, from articles III-248 to 253. Articles 254 and 255 of this section define the principles of space policy.
The first CER meeting, in 2004, proved a big success, attracting 500 participants, including 120 journalists from 28 countries. Scientists, researchers, media players and communication professionals were able to compare their ‘worlds’ and learn a little bit more about each other. Speeches, debates, presentations of experiences and good practices, as well as more informal meetings enabled a better mutual understanding of the issues involved in communicating science. In particular, they discussed ways in which research can convey its message to various audiences without falling victim to an over-simplified popularising of science.
Communicating European Research (CER)
The second CER meeting will be held on 14 and 15 November 2005. Once again the worlds of research and of communication will have the opportunity to explore the essential themes on which the two can establish a common understanding. They will exchange best practices, jointly define strategies, and look at ways of communicating research results to the public in general and to the press in particular. Parallel sessions will focus in particular on the successes and failures of communication, new trends, relations between science and the media (TV, radio, written press), scientific journalism, and science in schools.
European research will also be showcased in a number of ways, including the presentation of progress being made by current European research and scientific projects, and an exhibition of initiatives from the worlds of communication and of research.
In addition to the programmed activities, a forum will give participants the opportunity to draw on their own creativity by proposing events such as round tables, workshops and social events.
The two-day meeting will end with a presentation of the Seventh Framework Programme, which will start in 2007.
What new infrastructures are needed for European research? That is the question being posed by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) which, at the beginning of April 2005, presented a list of ‘23 opportunities’ covering astronomy and astrophysics, nanotechnologies, material physics, biology and biomedicine, the applications of supercomputers, the environment and the social and human sciences.
As part of its efforts to bring researchers closer to the general public, the Swedish association Vetenskap och Allimänhet (VA) proposes two documents, which can be downloaded in English, presenting the results of surveys carried out in the country: How Researchers View Public and Science (2003), and How Teachers View Science (2004). Although limited geographically to Sweden, these reports are nevertheless highly revealing and could inspire similar surveys in other countries. One notable point is that few researchers believe that their work is of any real interest to the general public. But there is some good news, too: one teacher in two notes a growing interest in science among school pupils.
Researchers and the public
The Women and Science Unit at the Research DG has presented a new publication entitled Women and Science: Excellence and Innovation - Gender Equality in Science. This provides an overview of all actions undertaken under the aegis of the EU since 2001, as well as those currently being prepared, plus extensive figures on the role of women in research in the different EU countries. Of particular note is that out of the budget of €20 million allocated to the Women and Science action by the Sixth Framework Programme; the 2005-2006 instalment amounts to € 5.7 million. Of this, €2 million will be allocated to the European platform of women scientists whose goal is to organise a network involving all individuals and organisations working to achieve gender equality in this sector. The Commission is also proposing the creation of an award for best gender research.
Women and Science
Two US scientists, Margaret Sommerville and Ronald Atlats, propose a nine-point ethical code for research in the life sciences. Their principal concern is to limit access to biological agents that could be used for the purposes of war – and, of course, for acts of bio-terrorism.
Reference: Science, 307, 1881
Transatlantic bridgesThere are around 100 000 European researchers based in the United States. The pessimistic see this as one-way traffic in our best brains. But another way of looking at them is as ‘bridgeheads’ who are well placed to help establish interesting forms of co-operation. To make sure these exiles retain their links with Europe, the Commission has set up the ERA-Link system. First, the network contacted 2 000 researchers of 33 nationalities residing in the United States (39% postdoctorates, 28% confirmed researchers, the majority being biologists and chemists) to establish their ‘relationship with Europe’. About 13% of them are members of an international science and technology network and while almost 50% have experience of local co-operation with other European researchers, many want to establish links of this kind with scientific organisations on their home continent. They are interested in financing and research opportunities in Europe, especially those connected with EU programmes.
However, they appear to be badly informed: only 18.4% of them have heard of the European Research Area and just 13.7% of the mobility portal for researchers. Although 51% have retained links with their home country and know how to seek employment there, that is not the case for other EU regions – 90% say they would like to be informed of career possibilities in all the EU countries.
ERA-Link plans to launch a pilot network designed to meet all these needs. The initiative was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference, which was held in Washington on 18 February.(1)
(1) This annual event concentrated in particular on EU research, at the various joint EU-US symposiums on questions of shared interest (research evaluation, science communication, career promotion, risk-taking in research, etc.).
Another example of a virtual link over the ocean is the mobility portal for researchers concerning Canada. This on-line service is deigned to enable European students and researchers to learn about opportunities in Canada and vice versa. The portal is a section of the scientific co-operation site set up by the Canada Mission to the European Union at the time of the Sixth Framework Programme launch.
Canada and the mobility portal
The Five-Year Assessment Report, published in February 2005, is certainly recommended reading. This document takes a close look at the successes and difficulties in implementing European research policy between 1999 and 2003, as well as at the lessons to be learned for the present and future. Chaired by Erkki Ormala, vice-president, responsible for technology policy with the Nokia Group, 13 experts from very diverse backgrounds participated in this remarkable fact-finding exercise, sounding out the many key players, and presenting structured reflections. In the report they scrutinise both the strengths and weaknesses of the European Research Area in the context of the rapid changes to the contemporary socio-economic, scientific and technological landscapes. They also provide a pragmatic examination of the implementation of EU action, and conclude with a set of very interesting fundamental recommendations. The next issue of RDT info will take an in-depth look at the report’s analyses and findings.
Ormala report: EU X-ray research
Every year, the Stockholm Water Prize is awarded to institutions or individuals who have achieved progress on the vital issue of water (research, management, etc.). Worth $150 000, this year’s award goes to the Centre for Science and Development (CSE). This Indian non-governmental institution, located in New Delhi, has worked intensively on installing reservoirs, water storage systems, irrigation reservoirs, drinking water, etc.
The price of water
"It is essential for the most pertinent and most recent scientific knowledge to be brought to the attention of decision-makers, at European and national level,” declared Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner responsible for research, on the subject of the launch of the Sinapse (Scientific INformAtion for Policy Support in Europe) network. Political choices – in terms of energy, the environment, public health, etc. – must be based on a good evaluation of the knowledge provided by scientific expertise. Initiated by the Commission, this new communication platform is available to governance, the scientific community itself and also to the general public in search of information.
Sinapse: register in the ‘Yellow Pages’ of scientific expertise
Sinapse is principally aimed at any individual or organisation (universities, science academies, research centres, individual scientists, etc.) with expertise that could prove useful in defining or implementing policy, as well as all those interested in the use of science in the political decision-making process.
Its principal function is to provide an increasingly comprehensive index of organisations and individuals with scientific and/or political expertise and to facilitate communication between them and the decision-makers. In this way, Sinapse should, on the one hand, allow policy-makers to consult more widely and, on the other hand, enable more players to express their opinions and share their knowledge. The intention is not to replace existing advisory mechanisms but to reinforce them by providing an additional means of collecting information useful to their work.
Various communication tools are proposed: a library of scientific opinions, with immediate circulation of the posted documents to members interested in the fields in question; a tool enabling the Commission services to consult members likely to possess the expertise sought; and an early-warning system and module enabling members to create discussion and exchange groups.
Sinapse is currently in its registration phase with the
aim of progressively creating the widest possible community
of interest. More than 200 organisations, including key
players in the scientific community, are already members
(e.g. ICSU – International Council for science,
ESF European - Science Foundation, ALLEA - All European
Academies, EUA - European Association of Universities,
UNICA - Network of the Universities from the Capitals
of Europe, National research/health councils, advisory
bodies etc. - The full list can be accessed on the site’s
« Yellow pages » module). The success
of this type of network is nevertheless based on having
a broad base and any scientist/expert or organisation
who would like to join is invited to register and also
to encourage interested contacts or networks to do the
"Human activity exercises such pressure on the planet’s natural functions that the ability of ecosystems to meet the demands of future generations can no longer be taken for granted.” The warning is taken from the Overview of Millennium Assessment Reports, produced under the aegis of the Institute of Advanced Studies at ONU University (Tokyo) and drawing on the findings of 1 300 experts from 95 countries. The report analyses in particular the services rendered by ecosystems that play a key role in the sustainability of the biosphere, such as oceans, the savannah, the tropical forest or the polar ice caps. These natural environments are essential generators of our water, food and biodiversity resources, and indirectly constitute the necessary conditions for the well-being of humanity.
Red alert for ecosystems!
It is known, for example, that the destruction of 35% of the world’s mangroves (flooded forests typical of tropical environments which are very rich ecosystems) has increased the impact of tsunamis on which they had a moderating influence. In particular, there is growing concern about what are known as ‘non-linear changes’: from a certain degradation threshold, an ecosystem is not only impoverished but unable to function. Some species of fish, for example, are so depleted that they can no longer be fished.
The study reaches four major conclusions:
This report is just the first step in a vast research project – lasting four years and with a budget of $21 million – making an in-depth assessment of the degradation of ecosystems and their impact on human well-being. Other reports and technical works are in progress. The initiative is the result of a partnership between UN bodies, international scientific organisations, and development bodies, in consultation with the private sector and civil society. The Global Environment Fund (GEF), the United Nations Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the World Bank are among its principal financial supporters.
- man has modified ecosystems more quickly over the past 50 years than ever before in his history;
- the gains in terms of well-being and economic development have been to the detriment of the other ‘services’ provided by ecosystems;
- this degradation is likely to get worse and jeopardise realisation of the Millennium Objectives for Development; and
- some scenarios involving significant changes to political choices could reverse this tendency.