On Sept 8, 2022, in Beijing, nearly 40 participants from universities and research institutes participated in a roundtable hosted by the Chinese Association for Science of Science and S&T Policy (CASSSP) and Elsevier. The roundtable was moderated by Prof Mu Rongping, President of CASSSP. It was one of a series of events organized internationally to provide unique regional perspectives and insights for a global initiative focusing on a topic of growing concern: Confidence in Research.
China is now the world’s 2nd largest investor in R&D and the largest contributor of scientific articles. Innovation-driven development has become its national strategy, along with nurturing talents in science and education. The goal of this roundtable was to gain special insights from China’s research community. Here are the key takeaways from the discussions.
1. Understanding “confidence in research”
Several concepts related to Confidence in Research were raised in the discussion, including “research integrity,” “popularization of science” and “trust in science.” Finally, the understanding of this concept was summarized and clarified. As Mu Rongping, President of the Chinese Association for Science of Science and S&T Policy, expressed:
Factors that impact confidence in research
Scientific research itself is undergoing many changes. New research paradigms are taking shape. More research areas are increasingly affected by commercialization and politicization. Research evaluation, recognition and reward mechanisms may put greater pressure on researchers than in the past. Most researchers are in a fierce competitive environment; they are eager to make achievements because this is crucial to their survival and promotion. However, this pressure can lead to overemphasizing speed and quantity while neglecting precision and quality — even violating the basic principles of science with academic misconduct.
These are the major causes of challenges to confidence in research.
With the development of technology, the internet and social media, science communications are getting faster and being conducted in various ways, which bring new challenges to researchers. There has been increasing public demand for fast and accurate science information. The pandemic has made such expectation even stronger.
The pandemic has also created many challenges for researchers in terms of research process, communications and cooperation. Although online meetings have become more common, roundtable participants think face-to-face communications remain important for building trust and promoting collaboration.
1. Boost the self-confidence of researchers as well as that funders and institutions that support and evaluate researchers.
Researchers should be encouraged to choose topics that could address the critical problems that need to be solved, instead of picking topics purely based on the preferences of government, funders and research institutions.
Sufficient funding including good research infrastructure (for example, labs and equipment) is crucial to boost confidence in research. It’s also important to ensure that both researchers and funders have confidence in the mechanism and process of identifying the right people to do the right research projects, and a series of reasonable criteria to evaluate the research outcomes.
And finally, the development of science and technology can be a double-edged sword when it comes to the effects on society. Researchers should take the responsibility to ensure “science and technology for good.” Research programs should be evaluated cautiously to determine whether they will support the wellbeing of our shared future.
2. Improve confidence in research by others within and beyond research community.
Research integrity is fundamentally important because it’s the key factor that impacts others’ confidence and trust in the methods and the findings of the research. In this regard, open science practices are considered helpful. The research community should establish a more open mindset and culture: for example, scientists need to share research data and results, and they should be encouraged and rewarded for doing so.
Open science can also help strengthen the link between science and society. The public has the right to access and benefit from scientific research, and at the same time, they should also know the uncertainty and limitations of research.
3. Shape the environment for public-facing science communication by cultivating professional talent and establishing special platforms.
Researchers should be encouraged to do science popularization, for example, by setting relevant evaluation criteria. Compared to young researchers who are under intense pressure to deliver innovative and original research outcomes, senior researchers should be more engaged in this area and take more responsibility as they are more credible in the public eye.
Research institutions and universities should establish a new role of “Public-Facing Science News/Information Officers” to regularly share major progress in science with the public in language that can be easily understood. Equipped with both public-facing communications skills and professional scientific knowledge, these well-trained spokespersons could handle the communication in a proper way.
It is also considered important to establish a unified scientific communications platform on which the verified content of science information and knowledge is classified and shared with public, to avoid scientific misinformation being created and promoted.
The discussion shed light on the topic of Confidence in Research in multiple dimensions and led to suggestions for improving it. It also provided an opportunity to probe into the difficulties and pressures faced by researchers, including challenges brought on by the pandemic and the unpredictable international environment.
This is just the beginning of exploring meaningful and effective solutions. People’s behavior depends on how they are evaluated and rewarded. Therefore, the key to solving any problems is to improve the related incentive mechanism. It’s also important to diversify evaluation indicators.
We are on the journey of a much broader collaboration with the research community, both in the China and globally. Leveraging this project, we hope all stakeholders can work collectively to support researchers and the research ecosystem to tackle all kinds of challenges and improve confidence in research.