Scientific Foresight (STOA) By / January 11, 2018

MEPs meet scientists once again

The sixth round of STOA’s MEP-scientist pairing scheme kicked off with the ‘Science meets Parliaments’ event, co-organised with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) on 28 November 2017.

Written by Zsolt G. Pataki with Nada Alkhayat and Carys Lawrie,

Science Meets Parlaiments. Conference on ' The role of science in post-fact society 'The sixth round of STOA’s MEP-scientist pairing scheme kicked off with the ‘Science meets Parliaments‘ event, co-organised with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) on 28 November 2017. The event brought together participants from across the European institutions, Member States and scientific disciplines, determined to share experiences and exchange views for the purpose of establishing a better understanding of the role of science in a post-fact society.

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Twitter hashtag: #EUsci4PARL

European Parliament Vice-President Lívia Járóka (EPP, Hungary) opened the packed event and welcomed the participants. Járóka stressed that scientists’ contributions are vital to parliamentarians’ work, arguing that ‘without your input, some of our work would be based on empty words, which wouldn’t be followed up’. Vladimír Šucha, JRC Director-General, advocated the integration of more scientific reports and articles into policy-making, whilst stressing that policies reflect facts as much as values and political views. There was general agreement on a statement by Paul Rübig (EPP, Austria), STOA First Vice-Chair, that was later reinforced by other speakers: scientists and policy-makers have to become better communicators, both with each other and towards citizens, if they are to effectively combat the dissemination of fake information. Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece), STOA Chair, expressed her appreciation for the support that scientists offer both for EU policy-making and implementation efforts, and for citizens, by providing accurate and accessible information on complex issues. Other keynote speakers included Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, responsible for the JRC, Rolf‑Dieter Heuer, Chairman of the European Commission Scientific Advice Mechanism High-Level Group, and Markku Markkula, First Vice-President of the Committee of the Regions.

A first intensive initial phase, followed up by further contacts throughout the year, was concluded on 30 November 2017, with 18 MEP-scientist pairs working together to identify areas where their knowledge and experiences could be combined to gain insights for better policy-making.

Young scientists challenge MEPs

The event then continued with parallel thematic discussions. In a session entitled ‘Young scientists challenge MEPs’, Vanessa Petroni from the University of Malta Department of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics spoke optimistically about the drive and energy of young scientists, which propels them towards better research outcomes. Koen Vermeir, a Global Young Academy representative, saw a key role for young scientists as knowledge-brokers between the scientific and political communities. Els Heinsalu of the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics in Tallinn agreed on the need for young scientists to take a proactive role in breaking down barriers, arguing that they should not wait for politicians to turn to them, but instead understand they have a responsibility to reach out to citizens directly, using social media. Moderator Georgi Pirinski (S&D, Bulgaria) acknowledged that society also has a role to play in actively listening to young people and encouraging them to share their views.

Art and science are essential for innovation in industry

Meanwhile, the second parallel discussion of the event, ‘Art and science are essential for innovation in industry’, brought together representatives from the arts, sciences and communication world. Johannes Vogel, Director General of the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin, Ralph Dum of European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology and Reet Aus, Art Director of Estonian company Upmade, informed the audience about significant innovations sparked by collaborations between art and science – including in the textile and prosthetics industries – suggesting that investing in innovation means funding artists as well as scientists. Moderator Jutta Thielen Del Pozo, Head of the JRC Scientific Development Unit, focused on the importance of effective communication in bridging societal divides. Both scientific bodies and EU institutions face the challenge of conveying complex and technical concepts to citizens, she argued, and art-science partnerships could play a role in overcoming this. In his closing remarks on this panel, Vladimír Šucha picked up on this idea, noting that artists have the capacity to simplify complex messages without compromising the meaning, and so can provide support in communicating ideas to citizens.

Brussels week – three days, 18 MEPs and 18 scientists

The ‘Science meets Parliaments’ event was just the start of the scientists’ programme in Brussels. Following the event, the scientists shadowed their counterpart MEPs in their daily activities, including attending political group meetings, and events organised by stakeholders and press conferences. The MEPs were able to use this time together to question ‘their’ scientists on their research, as well as on scientific issues related to ongoing legislation. This was a valuable opportunity for MEPs to gain insight into complex technical subjects from experts in those fields. While taking a break from the shadowing activities, scientists took part in a dynamic ‘World Science Cafe’ participatory session organised with the JRC. This activity posed important questions to scientists that would help them gain valuable insights into how the next framework programme for research and innovation will be shaped, especially in relation to how scientists can better influence legislative decision-making.

Take-aways and future plans

In a stocktaking meeting at the end of the week, the scientists spoke highly of the time they had spent with MEPs and their assistants, noting that the scheme was unique in allowing them to gain such a close view of an MEP’s work. Some reported that they had already made plans to stay in contact with their MEP and have agreed to be consulted on files when needed. Furthermore, several MEPs declared that they would be organising trips to their scientist’s host organisation. Many MEPs professed their intention to take part in the next edition of the pairing scheme. Evidently, the success of the 2017 edition drew the attention of several non-participants, such as Vice-President Lívia Járóka, who declared her intention to join next year’s next edition. Járóka declared: ‘It is imperative that this event continues as it is vital for scientists to come to the European Parliament to understand our system, and in doing so they learn how to move and influence parliamentarians at much earlier stages than politicians themselves would think to turn to them’.

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