Europe's voyage towards an open global research area
25 July 2016, EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF)
Carlos Moedas - Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
Check Against Delivery
Thank you Sir Mark Walport,
Minister Johnson, Congratulations on your reappointment.
Your Royal Highness Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan,
Vice-President Mairead McGuinness,
Members of the European Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,
If you were a European intellectual during the Enlightenment, the chances are you were a citizen of the Republic of Letters, a community of scholars and literary figures that included the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Goethe and Voltaire.
In Voltaire's correspondence alone, there were nearly 19,000 letters. Voltaire wrote most often to his contemporaries in France, but he also wrote to many others in Germany, Italy, Russia and Switzerland.
Across Europe, as universities began publishing academic journals, as royal societies provided patronage to the natural sciences, and as new ideas spread from the salons of the nobles to the coffee houses of the bourgeois, the blueprint for modern science was formed.
Within the Republic of Letters, natural philosophers shared and critiqued each other's ideas. They sent articles and pamphlets to one another and worked towards the expansion of their community, by introducing each other and increasing their networks of correspondence.
This was a community that transcended national borders, that experimented and debated across disciplines, and that pursued progress and societal advancement by means of rationalism.
But, though open-minded and meritocratic for the times, the Republic of Letters was a small and privileged community that few people had the means to access. The public was excited by the scientific discoveries of the age, but could play no active role in the process. The Republic of Letters was open science for the few.
By the 19th century, the abundance of new areas of scientific exploration required an overall term for 'men of science' and the word 'scientist' emerged. The industrial revolution and urbanisation had brought science into the public consciousness. National governments were funding science. School children were mastering the rudiments of physics, chemistry and biology in schools and books on science became bestsellers among increasingly literate populations.
Science was now discussed in the laboratory and the lecture hall. Science had succeeded in reaching the professional classes, who could marvel at great exhibitions in their leisure time. So the 19th century enabled more people to take part in science, but, for the most part, science was still closed to ordinary people.
The 20th century, was about nations. Individual nations conquered Everest, achieved space flight and navigated to the poles. Science was defined by one nation's sprint to the finish line after the other and scientific institutions and their funding were organised accordingly. Science was a matter of national pride and national security.
More people were attending university than ever before and broadcasting had brought science into people's living rooms. But still, the public remained an audience to be instructed, rather than an active participant in the scientific debate.
In the 21st century, science can no longer be distant to the public. It requires public support to succeed. I think of it in terms of a triangle between the public, scientists and data, with the public firmly at the centre.
It is my view that we are entering a new era of global and open science. This will return us to some of the founding principles of science. So the 21st century is not about one nation's sprint to the finish line.
As I said, in the 18th century the Republic of Letters was open science for the few. The 21st century will become the Republic of Letters for the many. Rather than being an elite activity, concentrated in a few countries in Europe, 21st century science will involve tens of thousands of scientists working collaboratively across the globe.
Equally as important, the relationship with the general public will define science. Because, unlike in the past, each of us now commands more information in our pockets than any scientist could ever read in their lifetime.
This information overload requires public trust in scientists to determine fact from fiction. Trust that will be built on the integrity and objectivity of scientists, and that will depend on good communication.
Therefore, the persistent historical division between the "intellectual" and the "non-intellectual", which I described earlier, is one that every scientist and every politician should be worried about.
Though globalisation provides the international integration that makes it possible for countries to work together on global challenges, such as climate change and migration, in its current form it has fallen short of benefitting the majority of people.
A scientist can explain how renewable energy can help to combat climate change, but how does that help someone who cannot afford to heat their home?
A politician can explain the net benefits of migration, but how does that help someone who cannot get a doctor's appointment?
The current lack of public and political engagement in fact-based decision-making even has people asking, have we have entered a "post-factual" era of democracy? One in which the public identifies with populist rhetoric and decisions are made based on fears and assumptions, because people feel science and politics have left them behind.
So what do we do about this?
How do we build trust?
How can we be clear and transparent?
How do we ensure progress in this triangle of the public, scientists and data?
I believe many of the answers lie in open science. Open access to data needs trust and transparency. Public acceptance requires research integrity and citizen science brings scientists closer to people.
Let's start with open access to data and research integrity.
The future of our knowledge economy will rely on public access to data, so that 1) the European public can take part in the scientific debate and 2) the public can directly access scientific evidence on the issues they care about.
You have to show how data can change lives. Recently in San Francisco, with the help of data in a deep learning system, the system detected cancer in more cases than cancer experts.
But with greater availability of scientific data, comes the need to ensure the integrity of what is being shared. The public needs to know that research results are not falsified, fabricated or plagiarised.
This is why we're putting more focus on research integrity in Horizon 2020 model grant agreements. And today, I can announce that the grant agreements for Horizon 2020 have been updated. They will include clearer rules on Research integrity, making sure that all researchers and research institutions know their obligations.
This brings us to citizen science.
We also need to find ways for the European public to take part in the processes behind scientific discovery 1) to help decide the priorities for public research funding and 2) so the European scientific community can crowdsource solutions with the volume and diversity to provide new insights.
Take, for example, the potential of gaming to help scientists multiply the number of brains working on a single problem at any given time.
Five years ago, gamers famously resolved the structure of an enzyme that causes an Aids-like disease in monkeys. Scientists had been working on the problem for over a decade. By using an online puzzle game, gamers solved the structure in just three weeks.
So, to ensure Europe leads the way on open science, I can announce that, from today, the Commission has made open data the default for all Horizon 2020 projects.
And, this morning, we have approved the next set of calls under Horizon 2020. Fifty calls, worth around 8.5 billion euro in 2017, in areas ranging from food security, to smart cities, to understanding migration.
For all projects funded by these calls, we will expect the data generated to be open access.
In addition, I am currently working with colleagues in the Commission on our proposed revisions to EU copyright law. The aim is to introduce a research exception in copyright that will apply across all Member States, and which will provide a predictable legal framework for Text and Data Mining.
The trends towards open science and open data are not something we can stop, So we should lead change, rather than adapt to it later.
Of course, talking about Horizon 2020 here in the UK, I know that there is a great deal of uncertainty about what the future holds. I have heard concerns about British organisations being dropped from EU projects. There are concerns about staff from other EU member states still being able to work in British research institutions.
I wish I could give you all the answers, but for now I can make two clear statements.
First, for as long as the UK is a member of the European Union, EU law continues to apply and the UK retains all rights and obligations of a Member State. This of course includes the full eligibility for funding under Horizon 2020.
Second, Horizon 2020 projects will continue to be evaluated based on merit and not on nationality. So I urge the European scientific community to continue to choose their project partners on the basis of excellence.
Ladies and gentlemen, today my message to you is this. By continuing to allow the gap between public perception and scientific ambition to increase, we risk, at best, apathy and, at worst, complete distrust at a crucial juncture.
Europe should not only be part of a Global Research Area that embraces open science, we should lead the way to this new Global Research Area.
Following the agreement by EU science ministers in May, Europe is the first region of the world to make open access the norm for all scientific publications, and now the largest research funding programme in the world to introduce open data as a default for all projects.
So let's create a new Republic of Letters: one that is inclusive, one that values its people as much as progress and one that restores trust and confidence in science.