EuChemS at ESOF

EuChemS headed to Toulouse for this year’s EuroScience Open Forum event from 9 – 14 July where we were also selected to present a poster. A jam-packed programme was waiting for us there, with highly relevant and thought-provoking sessions on science and policy, knowledge management, open science, the role of infrastructures, science communication, and a whole lot more! Below are our top ten take-aways from the event:

  1. Open Science is THE hot topic, and whether sceptical or aficionado, there was no way around it. Robert-Jan Smits, European Commission envoy on Open Science, reported on an upcoming ‘S-plan’ which, with the backing of funders, will propel us into a new era of science where open access is key. Open Science moreover encompasses many different features: open access, open peer-review, citizen science, open data, research integrity… But lots of questions remain, and audience members were quick to share their worry that openness could lead to poorer quality publishing. The move to open science will therefore require a total reexamination of how science is done, and will require novel metrics and indicators for assessing quality.
  2. ESOF is clearly looking to the (near?) future. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, and the role of datacentres were discussed at length. Panelists looked at whether AI will help scientists, or simply replace them and how AI could change the way researchers access their sources and papers. Other questions addressed the issue of how scientists will store the growing data they gather, and if they will eventually have to travel to datacentres where it can be stored and processed. And finally, the question was asked whether this new way of working is sustainable, and what effect these centres will have on the environment? Worldwide datacentres now annually consume as much energy as Sweden…
  3. Another highly debated subject focused on gender, and the continued disparities between male and female scientists across all fields of sciences and social sciences. From questioning the way culture influences our language and choices in what we wish to study, to the role education plays, to how a sense of patriarchy continues to pervade hiring processes, the sessions highlighted the many barriers still to cross.
  4. One of the major focus points at this year’s ESOF, was the upcoming research framework programme, Horizon Europe. Commissioner Carlos Moedas gave an impassioned opening speech in which he urged scientists across Europe to lobby their governments, their ministers, and to convince citizens that strong and ambitious investments in research and innovation is crucial. He also suggested that Horizon Europe could be the catalyst for a new ‘social contract’ between scientists, governments and citizens. Among many quotable lines, Commissioner Moedas also came back to basics: ‘’Without science, there is no knowledge, without knowledge, there is no democracy’’.
  5. Complicated words. My favourite? Reproducibility. This particular aspect, central to scientific mechanisms, was another hot topic at ESOF. Panellists asked whether we are facing a reproducibility crisis as a huge amount of experiments laid out in papers are impossible to replicate – and therefore to check and prove. Over 50% of scientists cannot even reproduce their own experiments… But even if more research integrity, better training and more steps to verify findings are implemented, how will this work in an era of big data and the petabytes of information to process – and therefore, review?
  6. Post-truth or not post-truth? ESOF participants and panellists debated at length whether the statements that we are living in a post-truth world (that is, where facts are easily manipulated to serve political, economic or personal interests and where scientific advice and expertise is dismissed) are really correct? The answer is complicated. Populist rhetoric tends to be peculiarly loud, with their statements often focused on in the media, and causing shockwaves because of their ability to alarm. But Eurobarometer surveys indicate on the other hand that a majority of people (albeit a small one) continue to value the role evidence plays in everyday lives and in political decisions. The worry is that over time, people will lose their sensitivity to factually wrong statements, and that they simply lose interest in whether something is true or not. After all, we are witnessing a steady drop in vaccination rates across Europe, as well as continued global warming scepticism.
  7. ESOF was diversity. It was a wonderful experience to mingle with scientists, science communicators, students, professors, journalists, and policymakers from across the globe. I met people from across Europe, but also from South Africa, the United States and Canada, Japan, Nigeria, Mexico and more. Each with their own experiences, viewpoints, interests and worries, but all with one goal: to share science with the world.
  8. Science is vast. The Poster area of the congress centre showcased an immense panoply of subjects, from the latest findings on the Higgs Boson to the chemical processes of wine, from industrial production of herbicides to improving blood transfusions in Africa. EuChemS was also selected to provide a poster to be exhibited during the week-long event. Our topic of choice? ‘Scientific Advice – how to harvest it in the best way?’. We looked at the general view of knowledge transfer and asked whether it is in need of a serious reassessment. We moreover provided indicators to decision-makers on how they can best maximise their intake of scientific advice, ensure they are consulting all relevant stakeholders to create a level-playing field, as well as provided some practical solutions. You can access our poster here.
  9. Science communication is key. A field that has been developing over many years already is now exploding. Science communicators are now active the world over and working incessantly on making sure scientific evidence remains the root of decision-making processes. But lots of obstacles remain and various ESOF sessions attempted to provide concrete steps forward. From advocacy tips and tricks to the creation of informal networks, science communicators firmly believe in their work, and are at the head of a renewed and strong voice in the name of science.
  10. And finally… scientists party in style! The ESOF party was held at the ‘City of Space’ in Toulouse, where we were able to admire the Ariane 5 Space Rocket whilst sipping on an aperitif and contemplate real-size satellites whilst gulping down amuse-bouches. The ‘City’ showcases the amazing achievements of France and of Europe in space as well as the frontiers of space exploration.
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