Tag Archives: European Science Foundation

Gender, science, science policy, and an update on Science: it’s (formerly, a girl) your thing

After describing the NDP (New Democrat Party) science policy launch/discussion as a bit of a ‘sausage fest’ in my Nov. 14, 2012 posting about being at the Canadian Science Policy Conference (part 2 of a 2-part series), I realized (very early this morning [Nov. 15, 2012]) that I could have described my own panel presentation in those terms since the majority of the response (if memory serves, 100% or thereabouts) was from the male members of the audience.

My interest is not a discussion about the rights or wrongs of this state of affairs but to find new ways to encourage engagement/discussion with everyone. Thrillingly and also this morning, I found a notice of a Nov. 14, 2012 blog posting by Curt Rice titled, “Gendered Innovations: Making research better” which touches on the topic (how do we better integrate gender into the discussion) and applies the thinking to research,

Could your research be better if you thought more about gender? I’m not asking if you could say more about gender if you thought about gender; that much is obvious. No, I’m asking if the quality of your research results more broadly could be improved if issues of gender informed the methods you use and the questions you ask. [emphasis mine]

At the University of Tromsø, we suspect that gendered perspectives could make your research better, and so we’re kicking off a new project to explore these issues and to better communicate them to our students. We’re doing this to improve the quality of our science — anything that might have that effect, after all, deserves careful exploration.

We’re also doing it because our primary funding agencies will reward grants that include gendered perspectives, regardless of the field of the grant. This is true of the Research Council of Norway and it’s true of the EU’s upcoming Horizon 2020 program [major European Union-funded science programming]. Arvid Hallén, the Director of our Research Council, tells us how important this has become.

A gendered perspective is a criterium for all applications being evaluated by the Research Council of Norway.

Our project draws inspiration from an international enterprise drawing the connection between overall research quality and the presence of gender-related questions and methods. [emphasis mine]

Rice is referring to Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, Engineering, and Environment based at Stanford University in California. Here’s more from the What is Gendered Innovations? page,

Gendered Innovations employ sex and gender analysis as a resource to create new knowledge and technology.

This website has six interactive main portals:

1. Methods of sex and gender analysis for research and engineering
2. Case studies illustrate how sex and gender analysis leads to innovation
3. Terms address key concepts used throughout the site
4. Checklists for researchers, engineers, and evaluators
5. Policy provides recommendations in addition to links to key national and international policies that support Gendered Innovations
6. Institutional Transformation summarizes current literature on: 1) increasing the numbers of women in science, health & medicine, and engineering; 2) removing subtle gender bias from research institutions; and 3) solutions and best practices.

I’m going to check this Gendered Innovations website for any information that can help  me develop sessions that encourage more participation from women and who knows? Maybe next year we can have a session at the Canadian Science Policy Conference where we discuss some of this thinking about gender issues, i.e., using information about gender bias and information about how it functions in real life situations for designing new research and policies.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned Curt Rice. He featured in a July 6, 2012 posting about the European Union campaign to encourage more girls to take an interest in science careers. The video produced by the project’s marketing communications team caused a sensation and a huge amount of criticism,

I find the June 29, 2012 posting by Curt Rice at the Guardian Science blogs gives insight into some of the current response (condemnation and support from an unexpected source) to and the prior planning that went into the campaign,

Advertising professors everywhere must be thanking the European Commission for their new campaign, Science: it’s a girl thing! This campaign – designed to convince high school girls to pursue careers in science – had such a badly bungled launch that it’s sure to become the topic of lectures and exam questions for communications students throughout Europe and beyond.

The problem lies in the “teaser” video, which went viral last week for all the wrong reasons. It was put up on the campaign website, disliked, criticised, mocked and then pulled down faster than the gaga male scientist in the video could open his zipper.

As a consequence, Rice created a contest for a new video and invited anyone to submit. Since July 2012, the European Science Foundation took on the project which offers three money prizes and the opportunity to have your video seen at the 2nd European Gender Summit, Nov. 29-30, 2012. Science: it’s a girl thing! has been renamed to Science: it’s your thing!  Here’s more from the Oct. 18, 2012 European Science Foundation news release,

This contest, co-organized by the European Science Foundation and Curt Rice (check his excellent blog: curt-rice.com) offers you the chance to highlight the diverse career options that science offers to young women everywhere.

This contest follows a campaign recently launched by the launched European Commission to encourage more young women to choose science in their future careers. With several countries taking part, the cornerstone of the campaign is a fresh and lively webpage, called Science: It’s a girl thing!

A video of the same name was made to raise awareness of the campaign. And indeed it did! The video was successful in creating discussion and engagement, triggering an animated debate on how to promote science to young women – a crucial element in bringing the campaign to life. However, feedback about the contents of the film was mixed so the Commission decided to remove it.

Since the original video is no longer being used but the excellent campaign remains, we have devised a contest to make a new video for it. By entering the competition you can help the European Commission better understand how the issue should be communicated and you get a chance to win €1500 if your video is selected as one of the 3 winning videos.

The contest is being promoted by a number of science bloggers and tweeters. And Nobel Prize winner Brian Schmidt (Physics, 2011) has made a donation for the cash prize!

The winning videos will be shown at the European Gender Summit Networking Event 2012, November 29 at the Science14 in Brussels.

Here’s more about the contest which appears to be open to anyone from anywhere in the world, from the Contest page,

Contest Instructions
  1. Visit the Science, It’s a Girl Thing website.
  2. Create a one minute (or less) video (in english) designed to create awareness for the initiative and to encourage young women to consider scientific careers.
  3. Upload your video to YouTube or Facebook.
  4. Follow the instructions on this site to submit your video.
  5. Tweet to @gendersummit with a link to your video using the hashtag #ScienceItsYourThing. We will promote your videos on this site and on Twitter.
  6. Encourage people to vote for your video from 19 November 2012, 18:01 Central European Time to 28 November 2012, 12:00 Central European Time .
  7. The video with the most votes on 28 November at 12 noon Central European Time, will be one of the winners.
  8. The other two winning videos will be determined by a panel of judges from the European Science Community & Industry.
  9. All three winning videos will receive a cash prize of 1500 euros and will be screened at the European Gender Summit networking event 2012, November 29 at the Science14 in Brussels..

Still have questions? Email us at [email protected]

The final deadline for the contest is Nov. 19, 2012 at 6 pm CET. Good luck!

Innovation in Europe—don’t copy a policy unless it works (amongst other salient comments)

There are very trenchant comments coming from the European Science Foundation (ESF) and the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) brief of  the Science of Innovation conference held Feb. 28, 2012.

From the July 18, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

Innovation has improved human living standards to an unprecedented level, and is the key to further progress; however it is a complex phenomenon that is not easy to understand and whose effects are unclear. This is the conclusion of the policy brief published by the European Science Foundation and STOA on innovation policy. …

It summarises ten thought provoking issues that the science of innovation poses to policy makers:

1. Innovation policy: ‘uncommon sense’ needed – innovation is not always benign and its effects are not clean cut. It is important to understand how best to optimise, not maximise, innovation

2. The ‘science of innovation’ – diversification of innovation policy is vital. In particular a better understanding of innovation policy for the service sector is important, as this is the largest and fastest growing sector, making up more than two-thirds of European economies

3. Policy myths and rituals – there are many ‘myths’ in the world of innovation policy, such as the role of venture capitals, SMEs and the state. Innovation policy sometimes has a ritual dimension, in which policy-makers apply certain principles from elsewhere – often the US – because it seems like the thing to do, rather than because of clear evidence that it will work in their particular situation. Innovation policy has to be context-specific, and this is a big challenge for those who want to develop European-level innovation policy [emphasis mine]

4. Blind spots in innovation policy – knowledge transfer from other sectors than universities have been largely omitted in the discourse on innovation; the focus on tertiary education has for instance in some cases reduced the quality of the output of secondary education [emphasis mine]

5. Creative destruction, or destructive creation? – rather than ‘creative destruction’ we are increasingly seeing a process of ‘destructive creation’, in which new products and services diminish or destroy the usage value of existing ones, to the benefit of a few rather than many [emphasis mine]

6. Cognitive lock-in – the increased proximity between innovation policy and innovation research may have the effect of inhibiting the creation of new knowledge that could change policy directions

7. The ERA and academic disparities – the effect of European Research Area (ERA) policy may be uneven, as the opportunities it presents are unevenly distributed

8. Evidence-based innovation policy: limits and challenges – innovation policy is often not really evidence-based, or even based on distorted evidence. Available evidence from innovation research is fragmented, of variable quality, hard to interpret and often used inappropriately [emphasis mine]

9. Sharing risks and returns: toward a new model of knowledge governance – a new model of knowledge governance is considered, with innovative financial tools to give returns proportional to the very active high risk-taking role of state in investing in innovation

10. Innovation aimed at public value – stimulating the right type of innovation requires a clear idea of ‘public value’ and how to measure it

The brief (all 12 pp.) can be found here. Having read the brief, I highly recommend it. They actually have some imagery accompanying the text that I would describe as satirical. You just don’t expect that kind of thing in an official joint non-governmental agency/government  document.

There were a few things that I didn’t quite understand including the image of the turtle jumping out of a glass of water and seeming to fly (front cover) but perhaps someone could leave a comment explaining it to me.

To whet your appetite, here’s an excerpt from an item in the brief,  from 3. Policy myths and rituals on p. 5 PDF,

Features that work in the US may not work as well in Europe [or Canada for that matter], and in fact many of the ideas that Europe [or Canada] has about what works in the US are incomplete or distorted. For example, in the US, it is in fact in existing, large firms (rather than small new start-up SMEs) and in non-R&D intensive sectors (rather than R&D-intensive sectors) where the main productivity gains are being realised. The real importance of universities in the innovation system is not the direct commercialisation of research-derived knowledge. It is rather a range of other highly influential effects, notably the ‘production’ of an educated workforce able to generate and/ or absorb innovations, and of educated consumers able to use innovative products, both necessary for realising the value of innovation. Also, contrary to the ruling perception of many European policy-makers, active intervention by the state is key to innovation in the US. Innovation policy has to beware of myths and rituals, and needs to be highly context-specific (national, regional).

ETA July 27, 2012: David Bruggeman in a July 26, 2012 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog comments,

In general, the report strikes me as a more pragmatic, operational focus on science, technology and innovation than what I see being supported through the NSF program.  (Of course, YMMV.)

He too was quite interested in their point on myths and policy.

Science should it be ‘in’ or ‘and’ society?

The European Science  Foundation (ESF) has just launched a report on science ‘in’ society as opposed to the more common phrasing science ‘and’ society. I’m not sure changing  from science ‘and’ society to science ‘in’ society is going to be noticed all that much. (In marketing circles it was known as that the company’s correct name was The Gap but no one ever called it that and it was rarely written correctly by anyone other than company officials. Despite strenuous effort, it remained the Gap.)

From the July 16, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

At the ESOF 2012 conference The European Science Foundation’s (ESF) dedicated Member Organisation Forum (MO Forum) on ‘Science in Society Relationships’ has released its latest report: “Science in Society: a Challenging Frontier for Science Policy”. The report has called for a strengthening of ‘Science in Society’ (SiS) activities in a time of ambiguity for science.

The latest report aims to highlight the role of science in society, to raise awareness of how scientific knowledge is translated into society and to encourage better practice in the relationship between science and society. In order to achieve a better society and increase the quality of research and innovation, the MO Forum offers several recommendations:

  • A clear commitment to SiS in MO science policy and strategy has to be enhanced
  • Transparent SiS processes must be put in place within the organisational structures of Member Organisations and other research funding and performing bodies. SiS processes must also be seen as an essential and central part of a researcher’s work
  • Researchers and research groups must be properly rewarded for their work in this area
  • More experiments concerning instruments, activities and methods should be encouraged
  • Sharing experience and best practice through networks for exchange within Europe on a regular basis would increase efficiency in SiS

Networks to jointly develop systems for indicators, evaluations and measurements are needed. There is a need to coordinate efforts for greater impact. Organisations need the instruments to do this and this involves ensuring that SiS activities are formally evaluated, which is not the case today

You can download the report from here. Don’t worry about using the ‘shopping cart’, all I had to do was click on the ‘download’ button. I liked this graphic (from p. 11 of the PDF of “Science in Society: a Challenging Frontier for Science Policy”), which illustrates a changing approach to the topic,

Given that my primary interest is the communication of science (in whatever direction it occurs), I was most interested in these recommendations (on pp. 21-2 of the PDF),

4.2.1 Key recommendations for Research Funding Organisations (RFOs)

RFOs can be small or large, public or private, typically employing from 20 to 200 administrative staff. The main focus for organisations of this sort should be to ensure that there is sufficient funding for SiS activities. RFOs also have a responsibility to evaluate the quantity, quality and impact of SiS activities and to use this evaluation to reward researchers and research groups accordingly. Measures appropriate for RFOs are:

• Start by surveying the current situation. Is the present model working and does it fit with the mission statement with regard to SiS? Analyse if the funding situation with regard to SiS activities is optimal for the task. Is it within the research grant, or is there a separate fund for SiS, or a mixture of the two?

• Identify how to monitor what activities researchers funded by your MO currently participate in. Consider the audience being targeted, the impact, the quality, the cost (in terms of time and money). In what ways can you as a funding body influence this?

• Experiment, explore and learn ways to increase and enhance researchers’ participation in SiS relations. There should be inclusiveness across sciences and research groups; it should not be mandatory for every individual researcher but it is imperative that the dialogue is not confined to just a few selected researchers and research groups.

• Identify gaps in SiS activities, capacities and expertise where extra funding or support, initiated through the funding scheme, could improve things; for example through training and workshops.

4.2.2 Key recommendations for Research Performing Organisations (RPOs)

RPOs are often large organisations with tens, hundreds or thousands of researchers. This type of organisation, therefore, has the capacity to heavily influence the decisions and motivations of researchers when they consider involvement in SiS activities. Thus RPOs should ensure that there are sufficient resources allocated for SiS activities. RPOs also have the potential to include SiS as a consideration in promotions and pay rises. They will also have the power and the facilities to coordinate, organise or simply participate in training and workshops around SiS.

• Start by surveying current practices of society/ public interaction. Identify what activities go on now, the audience reached, the impact, the quality, the cost (in terms of time and money). Do they fit with the mission statement?

• Define and compare their qualities, publics, efficiency, etc. Select which seem to be more efficient and describe them in their context. Identify areas of strength and of weakness.

• Survey funding available to research groups for dissemination of research results (e.g. budgets provided for the EU-funded projects). Could the funds be used more efficiently provided that RPOs offer professional support to researchers both in performing SiS activities and in drafting new projects?

• Identify ways to increase and enhance scientists’ participation in SiS. There should be inclusiveness across sciences and research groups; it should not be mandatory for every individual researcher but it is imperative that the dialogue is not confined to just a few selected researchers and research groups.

• Identify gaps in funding, capacity and expertise and make plans to provide the necessary funding, training and support by professional staff for researchers and research groups.

• Integrate the scientific education of researchers with skills for science communication and dissemination.

• Raise awareness of stakeholders and decision makers, as well as of public groups of different kinds.

• Set up or participate in infrastructures for public engagement activities and communication arenas of all kinds: forums, dialogues, training, competences, etc.

I think the really important recommendation (if you want to see action from the researchers) is this one (from p. 27 of the PDF),

4.6 Make evaluation of SiS part of research funding schemes

By and large, there is need for change in the culture of scientific organisations. This is a clear conclusion from the work of the MO Forum on SiS relations. SiS activities should not represent an obstacle to researchers’ career progress. One effective way for RFOs and RPOs to show that they value SiS is to consider rewarding researchers for their SiS work, particularly by means of funding and merits.

The MO Forum recommends that RFOs and RPOs consider the following measures as a first step towards linking SiS activities with research funding.

(a) Introduce evaluation methods and indicators: [emphasis mine]

• Activities and time spent

• Resources – budget and human resources

• Income

• Develop impact measurements

• Indicators should be simple, transparent, easy to collect, generally accepted

(b) Make SiS an intrinsic part of funding and merits:

• Introduce SiS requirements at grant application stage – for instance, a plan of SiS activities at the grant application stage in order to prompt researchers to think about SiS issues

• In peer review decisions, use SiS as a differentiator when projects score equally on scientific excellence

• Collect data on SiS and enable researchers to report their SiS activities within current grant monitoring systems (annual, interim, end-of-grant, evaluation reports)

• When awarding grants, allocate a percentage of time to be spent on SiS activities

• Allocate funds for specific SiS-promoting activities

I believe this is where some previous programmes have fallen short. Including a section on funding applications about ‘public engagement’ or ‘science in society’ activities is all very well but it’s meaningless unless there is some overview and evaluation of the activities undertaken. As well, I think that at least one more element should be introduced and that’s substantive encouragement and recognition for the efforts from academic institutions in the form of career credit.  The unwritten rule in academe (in Canada anyway) is still that you’re better off with research credits than teaching credits despite all the chat about the importance of students and their experience in the classroom.

One last note, I was quite intrigued by the definition of science used in the report (from p. 9 of the PDF),

Science may be considered as a broad field which includes a body of publicly proven knowledge that is separated into specific fields (disciplines). Research may be defined as the exploration of new fields or new questions, as exploratory activities by scientists in search of new approaches which contribute to our understanding of the world as well as to influence the world.

In this report, we took into consideration both aspects; so ‘science’ refers to science or research, and covers both abstract and practical activities, and encompasses all sciences, including humanities and social sciences as well as natural sciences, medicine and engineering.

It’s the first time I’ve seen the humanities included.

Brits go for the graphene gusto in Warsaw but where are the Swedes?

The Universities of Cambridge, Manchester, and Lancaster (all in the UK) have launched an exhibition extolling graphene in Warsaw (Poland). From the Nov. 25, 2011 news item on physorg.com,

The European programme for research into graphene, for which the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Lancaster are leading the technology roadmap, today unveiled an exhibition and new videos communicating the potential for the material that could revolutionise the electronics industries. [emphasis mine]

I’m a little confused as I thought the Swedish partner was either the leader or one of the lead partners.

I found this Nov. 24, 2011 news release from the University of Cambridge where the announcement was made,

An exhibition has been launched in Warsaw today highlighting the development and future of graphene, the ‘wonder substance’ set to change the face of electronics manufacturing, as part of the Graphene Flagship Pilot (GFP), aimed at developing the proposal for a 1 billion European programme conducting research and development on graphene, for which the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Lancaster are leading the technology roadmap.

The exhibition covers the development of the material, the present research and the vast potential for future applications. The GFP also released two videos aimed at introducing this extraordinary material to a wider audience, ranging from stakeholders and politicians to the general public. The videos also convey the mission and vision of the graphene initiative.

“Our mission is to take graphene and related layered materials from a state of raw potential to a point where they can revolutionise multiple industries – from flexible, wearable and transparent electronics to high performance computing and spintronics” says Professor Andrea Ferrari, Head of the Nanomaterials and Spectroscopy Group.

“This material will bring a new dimension to future technology – a faster, thinner, stronger, flexible, and broadband revolution. Our program will put Europe firmly at the heart of the process, with a manifold return on the investment of 1 billion Euros, both in terms of technological innovation and economic exploitation.”

Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms, could prove to be the most versatile substance available to mankind. Stronger than diamond, yet lightweight and flexible, graphene enables electrons to flow much faster than silicon. It is also a transparent conductor, combining electrical and optical functionalities in an exceptional way.

This is connected to the European Union’s FET11 flagship projects initiative (described at more length in my June 13, 2011 graphene roundup posting) where six different research areas have been funded in preparation for a major funding round in late 2012 when two research projects will  be selected for a prize of 1B Euros each.

I find the communications strategy mildly confusing since the original project team listed Jari Kinaret of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden (as highlighted in my Nov. 9, 2011 posting about funding for the Swedish effort with no mention of the other partners). The flagship group appears to be working both cooperatively and separately on the same project.

I did get a little curious as to the membership for this graphene research group (consortium) and found this,

1  CHALMERS UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, Sweden

2  THE UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER,  United Kingdom

3  LANCASTER UNIVERSITY, United Kingdom

4  THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom

5  AMO GMBH, Germany

6  CATALAN INSTITUTE OF NANOTECHNOLOGY, Spain

7  NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF ITALY, Italy

8  NOKIA OYJ, Finland

9  EUROPEAN SCIENCE FOUNDATION, France

You can find more information about the Graphene Flagship Project here although they don’t appear to update the information very frequently.

Nanotechnology and European space technology initiatives

They’re holding a conference right now (Nov. 29 & 30, 2010) in Belgium about space technology and scientific areas such as nanotechnology, not usually directly associated with space, that might be useful. From the Nov. 29, 2010 news item on Nanowerk,

Dr. Alberto Tobias from the European Space Agency (ESA) commented: “Space shares the technology and industrial base with other sectors and open innovation is the rule. In some domains technology advances faster in terrestrial sectors and if space enters the game, it can become a lead user. Bringing the two domains together offers many benefits: better products and lower costs for space; and an increased innovation for terrestrial industries, driven by space research.”

TECHBREAK combines a forward view of space sciences with the forward view of technology coming from non-space areas. It will be using a classification of non-space disciplines under the broad headings of ‘Key Enabling Technologies’ which were identified in 2009 by the European Commission as being likely to be the driving forces behind future European developments. During the launching conference, participants will present the different problems, their work, goals and limitations, and brainstorm and answer related targeted discussions. Participants to the conference will then attempt to match key enabling technologies from both space and non-space and identify gaps and to define if necessary the contents of further specialised workshops in support of this activity.

You can read more about the TECHBREAK conference here. (I gather this initiative is being funded by the European Science Foundation.)