Issues of 'science in society' are not in themselves new, but this new report from the European Science Foundation, called "Science in Society: Caring for our Futures in Turbulent Times", is written at a critical time for science policy. Recent times have seen the world having to learn to deal with austerity, libel and new models of business. This all happens at a time when innovation is being promoted more vigorously than ever as a way out of crisis and as a foundation for future prosperity. As the report argues, increased governance of science and technology and the sense of continued austerity raise significant implications for science-society relations.
The report calls for a more careful approach to the meaning of the notions 'science' and 'society' as articulated in many programmes, activities and policy discourses because neither 'science' nor 'society' are homogenous entities. The report also advocates a shift of our attention in approaches to science-society issues to move from from a logic of clear-cut choices - that suggest the idea of a linear problem-solving - to a logic of care, which admits an adaptive process of dealing with these issues in the face of diversity and rapid change already present well before 'the crisis' label. Key recommendations touch upon five broad areas:
- Linking excellence to relevance and responsibility - At a time when the policy discourse strongly embraces excellence as one, if not the guiding principle, careful consideration is needed as to how this commitment relates to questions of societal relevance and responsibility. The report is calling for better research-based understanding of science-society issues and explicitly integrating them into funding mechanisms and organisational practices.
- 'Science-society activities' – integration into and separation from research - With regard to Horizon 2020 as well as national research programmes, it is important to avoid the 'ritualisation trap' that comes with considering the social sciences and humanities as an 'add on' at the end of the projects to provide reflexivity 'by the book'.
- Plurality matters - It is widely acknowledged that contemporary societies have become more diverse and that transnational mobility will further increase this. Aiming to make this plurality matter in a positive way and turning it into a unique opportunity for Europe, the policy brief stresses the need to explicitly acknowledge European diversity, address science-society issues in ways adapted to the local context, give space to a variety of understandings of progress and futures and broaden the notion of innovation to the social sciences, humanities and arts.
- Expanding and creating new spaces for science-society interactions - While science-society issues have been under consideration for some time and a broad set of actions established, it seems important to generate new ideas in this area. This requires critical reflection on notions of 'science' and 'society', more trust in bottom-up initiatives and more exploring science-society relations as processes.
- Making time-space for reflexive work – The report ends with a call for the active creation of more time and space for reflexive work within research while developing visible incentive structures in order to make it possible for researchers to engage in these activities without damaging their career opportunities.
Professor Ulrike Felt, Chair of the Scientific Committee in charge of the production of this Science Policy Briefing, comments: "This report above anything calls for a logic of care. Science policy needs to consider contextuality, the complexity and the continuous development of science-society issues in order to become more accurate and beneficial to the science community and society at large."
Source: European Science Foundation