“Science losing credibility as large amount of research is shown to be false” reads the headline of an article in Waking Science magazine. Another article in the Wall Street Journal states that “the corruption of peer review is harming scientific credibility.” In a world that prides itself on scientific acumen and the scientific method, these are huge problems. Science is structured in a way that makes scientists build upon other people’s work, creating something like a pyramid of knowledge. Scientists apply methods of others, argue using other scientists’ conclusions, and make important decisions based on these findings. However, science is becoming highly politicized. Topics such as climate change receive incredible amounts of funding whereas other academic fields such as archaeology have difficulty finding financial backers (exemplified by the fact that a year after the potential final resting place of Alexander the Great was found in Greece, the excavation lies forgotten). Similarly, science is becoming an increasingly corporate affair. For instance, sugar lobbies are paying scientists to publish articles that blur the role of sugar in heart disease and instead blame it on fats. At the same time, as more scientists enter their respective fields and funding dwindles, the competition for results is higher. In essence, the world is facing a massive issue of scientific credibility. It is time for the European Union to step in, drastically. As a part of the Horizon 2020 project, or other future projects, the EU should create a new project titled: “The EU Scientific Credibility Institute” or EUSCI for short.
The aim of this project would be to establish an institute or environment in which scientific findings are put to the test using a method of open access. What this means is that similar to all the political processes that are open to the public, filmed and documented, this project will do the same for science. This helps accomplish several goals. On the one hand, it increases public engagement in science, research, and innovation, which in turn helps scientific education. This increase in public engagement opens up many areas previously unavailable to scientists. It will increase the subject pool available and given the fact that anyone can tune in at any moment, educational institutions of all levels can emulate, contribute to, or criticize the methods used by the scientists. What we find, in essence, is that a whole new world of possibilities opens up for the scientific community.
The way in which projects or experiments would be selected will help achieve many of the EU’s goals on science. One can imagine an environment in which non-partisan senior scientists and EU employees decide on which projects would be facilitated by the EU Scientific Credibility Institute. Senior scientists would examine projects for the scientific worth and the EU employees would examine the projects for their societal/EU implications.
Crucially, such a project would help the EU accomplish crucial goals mentioned in its “Responsible research & innovation” project. For example, it calls out for increased gender diversity. One of the ways in which EUSCI could help establish this is by stimulating a wider array of genders to participate in scientific research. In combination with open access, this will function to set a strong example and demonstrate the merits of gender diversity. Similarly, the “Responsible research & innovation” project calls for increased interdisciplinary approaches. On the one hand, it could stimulate this by having scientific projects approached from several academic angles, while on the other hand, once again the merits of open access will stimulate academics and students from other fields to criticise or problematize scientific undertakings. Finally, it could add credibility to the EU. More specifically, given the fact we already have EU standards in food, EU standards in safety, and EU standards trade, why not have EU standards in science?
Crucially, the EUSCI would have two cornerstones. First, the removal of cognitive and information bias. By removing financial and political pressure from scientific results, while having the entire process open to the public, it would produce substantially more dependable results based in fact. Secondly, it would be an incredible environment for talent. This is because the open access will allow people with all socio-economic backgrounds to contribute, which in turn will give rise to new, unexplored talent. At the same time, it would provide an environment in which students or recently graduated academics can explore their scientific acumen by testing and improving upon established theories and methodologies.
Much of our society is built on scientific knowledge and ideas. This includes research in sociology, chemistry, psychology, astronomy and all the other fields of science. In order to stem a crisis in scientific credibility, the EU must lead the way. An institute such as the EUSCI will help the EU establish its “Responsible research & innovation” goals. But most importantly, it will be a very valuable tool in helping to re-establish scientific credibility by removing much of the political and corporative elements and reaffirming science in fact.
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