Social media to the forefront of Conference on Responsible Research and Innovation in Trinity College

This article was written as part of  Youth Media and the Irish Presidency, a European Movement Ireland initiative that aims to bring a unique and youth-focused perspective to coverage of the Irish Presidency and to encourage regional engagement with the Presidency and Europe.

The second edition of the European Intersectoral Summit on Research and Innovation was held in Trinity College Dublin on February 25 and 26.

Under the auspices of the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU, the conference, organised by non-profit organisation Atomium Culture, explored the role of the media in the European Model for Responsible Research and Innovation. It aimed to generate concrete recommendations on what needs to be done on a European level to reach long term objectives of smart, inclusive and sustainable growth.

Over two days of negotiations, expert representatives from research institutions, governments, businesses, the media and NGOs met to discuss and reflect on the relationship between science and society.

Continuing the discussions initiated at the ‘Science in Dialogue’ conference during the Danish Presidency, this summit saw the emergence of key themes that included ethics, gender equality, public engagement, science education, open access and social media. The central importance of research and innovation to Europe’s economic recovery was stressed across the board.

In his welcome address at the opening of the conference, Dr Patrick Prendergast, Provost of Trinity College Dublin and Member of the Advisory Board of Atomium Culure, stated that, ‘the remarkable research coming from Europe’s higher education sector is creating opportunities for economic growth across the continent’.

‘I see science as a core part of employment creation and retention,’ said Seán Sherlock, Minister of State for Research and Innovation.

‘Assessing the impact of research’ by Eoin Kelleher
‘Assessing the impact of research’ by Eoin Kelleher

Among the speakers at the opening session were German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, who both addressed the assembly via video conference. Other guest panellists included Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, former French President and Honorary President of Atomium Culture, and Simon Hampton, Director of European Public Policy of Google.

Throughout the discussions there was great emphasis placed on the role of the media in promoting scientific issues, and how that role has changed and grown as a result of online social networks. Responsible reporting and a dedication to ethical principles were directly linked to the quality and effectiveness of media coverage. Questions such as whether the impetus should be on scientists or journalists to make research accessible to the general public were also addressed, as well as how to engage their audience in these discussions.

Open access was widely debated, with both sides of the argument presenting valid points. However, the conference concluded clearly in its favour, with most agreeing that open access to scientific journals is central to innovation in Europe, and will work with publications rather than against them, changing how scientists write papers, in order to make them more accessible and understood by the public.

The responsibility of the media in ensuring an equal and accurate representation of science to young people was also of great interest. Speakers at the working session on gender in research and innovation described how cultural images can strongly influence adolescents and their career choices. Scientists are most often portrayed in the media as older, white men who work alone and are seen as socially inept, not an attractive image to boys or especially girls. A similar theme re-emerged at discussions the following day, with speakers pooling their ideas on how to make science a more appealing option to young minds. Informal education was seen as a valuable asset in igniting interest in the subject. Hybrid spaces where science and art collide, such as the new Science Gallery in Trinity College, were shown to yield particularly effective results.

The summit was brought to a close with a presentation of its results and a conclusion by members of the final panel. President of Science Europe, Professor Paul Boyle explained that this is a critical time for responsible research and innovation, with the decisions being made about the size of the budget for Horizon 2020, the upcoming EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, but that it remains to be seen how it will be put into practice.

‘Science is not an issue of scientists, science is an issue of society,’ said Octavio Quintana Trias, Director for the European Research Area, in the closing session.

‘The media represent an important link between science, market and society. They pose the unique [opportunity] to create public interest in science and increase social recognition of the scientific career,’ said Vice-President of the European Parliament, Oldrich Vlasak.

‘Good science journalism doesn’t just inform, it mitigates expectations from society,’ said Professor Vinny Cahill, Dean of Research of Trinity College, in the final remarks.

Atomium Culture and its editorial committee will develop a report on the outcomes of the conference that will be presented later in the Irish Presidency.


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