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New report launched

From Bio- to Geos-? Important lessons to be learned for research policy

On October 4th Roger Strand and Kjetil Rommetveit launched the report "What can history teach us about the development of a European research Area?" at a seminar in the European Commission in Brussels. The report was commissioned by the JRC Joint Research Centre, and was authored by SVT researchers Kjetil Rommetveit, Roger Strand, Ragnar Fjelland and Silvio Funtowicz.

From Bio- to Geos-? The Histera report suggests that we are living a paradigm shift in which the Geo-sciences overtake the life-sciences (Bios-), as narrators of the fate and place of human societies in Nature.

There are important lessons to be learned for research policy from the history, philosophy and sociology of science. Current European research policies make a number of assumptions about the role of scientific research and innovation in our economies and societies. They also make assumptions about the governability of scientific research by public management and quantitative tools such as research indicators. These assumptions have their history and they (often implicitly) rely on particular philosophical and political commitments. At the time of writing (2013) Europe is faced with serious economic and political challenges. Accordingly, it is a good time to rethink fundamental assumptions. With this purpose, this report displays and discusses some central features and principles of European history and philosophy of science.

The report describes some main traits in the development of the European knowledge society up to the present, significantly the tight interactions (co-productions) of science and politics. It highlights the important role played by the humanities and the humanist tradition in European history, and the potential of these for addressing some of Europe’s most pressing challenges in the present. Main recommendations from the report include:

  • European Values: Return to Reason
    The central piece of heritage from the European Renaissance is the humanist ideal of reasoned dialogue between reasonable persons who are aware of their own limitations and are curious to learn from others.

  • European Values: Diversity and Tolerance
    In the same heritage from the Renaissance, diversity of opinions and perspectives is considered a resource for understanding and living with complex issues and not as noise to be filtered away from singular truth.
  • European Values: Universalism, Democracy and Public Knowledge
    A return to reason would imply that elites admit the limitations of their knowledge and therefore the need for the citizenry to accept responsibility and commit to actively contributing to the future of society. A celebration of diversity would imply a strengthening of other voices than those of industry. Democracy means that everybody is entitled to have their voice heard and universalism means that it is reasonable to listen to them.
  • Grand Challenges and Deep Innovation
    Assessments of the success of policies on grand challenges through deep innovation should include assessments of ultimate outcomes and not just proxies such as the development of consumer products and services that somehow may claim to be related to the challenges. Grounded in the original concept of innovation, we propose an emphasis on new interlinkages between the grand challenges. Closely related to the three action points above, deep innovation would signify the profound involvement of members of society in the development of new ideas and new solutions; not just as passively receiving consumers but as citizens who participate and through their involvement build new forms of agency.