13 July 2018 | General
COST networks join in the debate at ESOF 2018

Over the last 5 days, researchers, policy makers, science journalists, communicators and funding bodies from across Europe have stressed the importance of sharing research at the biggest science and innovation event on the continent - the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF). COST took the opportunity to support researchers from over 20 COST Actions, as they held 7 of the 200 sessions making up the event’s science programme.

The event was the opportunity for Commissioner Carlos Moedas to present the ideas behind Horizon Europe, the EU’s next funding programme for research and innovation. Putting forward a case for a funding programme that goes beyond science,  he claimed Horizon Europe needed to represent a new social contract between citizens, governments, and innovators . This was exactly what the scientists involved in COST-funded European networks emphasised during their panel discussions, all touching on timely societal challenges.  

family photo ESOF2018

Family photo at ESOF 2018 (from left to right): COST President Dr Sierd Cloetingh, Science Officer Dr Mafalda Quintas, EU Commissioner Carlos Moedas, COST Director Dr Ronald de Bruin.

Family photo Sierd Ronald Mafalda Primoz Rossella Robert Jan

Family photo at ESOF 2018 (from left to right): Head of Science Operations Dr Primož Pristovšek, Open Access Envoy of the European Commission  Robert Jan Smits,  COST President Dr Sierd Cloetingh, COST Director Dr Ronald de Bruin,  Science Officers Dr Rossella Magli and Dr Mafalda Quintas

Privacy and surveillance – thorny issues for both the young and the elderly 

The challenges and benefits of digital technologies for healthy ageing were at the heart of the first COST-run session - an open space for debate on issues like privacy, anonymity and surveillance. Prof. Nuno Garcia of University of Beira Interior indicated that we should try out various technologies like robots or applications but only choose those that truly work. For instance, Dr Jan Veneman of Hocoma is  leading a COST Action connecting international experts on wearable robots worn on the body , helping disabled patients walk again. However, there is still much to improve, as this technology is limited to walking on flat surfaces.  All agreed that ethical questions could not be ignored; Blanca Deusdad of COST Action  NoToAgeism  stressed that technology could not replace human relationships and that the young and the elderly needed to exchange experiences so people stopped suffering from loneliness, as they grow older.

Privacy and surveillance were also part of the conversation about young children’s use of connected toys. Jackie Marsh and Giovanna Mascheroni, both part of  COST Action DigiLitEy , have shown connected toys can boost children’s creativity. Children play seamlessly online and offline, and they can make sense of their own creations in virtual reality in relation to the physical world when using 3D toys. Both researchers and colleagues from the Joint Research Centre  recommended experts helped parents to better understand digital toys and the way children use them , instead of simply limiting children’s screen time. Jackie Marsh also supported the idea of parents explaining to their children how artificial intelligence technologies like Siri work. 

Still, Giovanna Mascheroni insisted more research is necessary for a better understanding of new concepts such as datafication and dataveillance, so that experts could assess possible effects on citizenship and children.


Big data for citizen science and smart, fair urban transport 

How can data help save plant or animal species on the verge of extinction? Or help urban planners develop fairer transport for all? Two burning questions that researchers put forward during two separate debates, but with a few challenges in common. 

Citizen science initiatives are crucial in finding and managing invasive alien species – plants or animals that have been introduced into an environment where they don’t actually belong. Ana Cristina Cardoso (JRC) and Helen Roy, both involved in COST Action  Invasive Alien Species , said reliable, verified data was crucial if citizen science was to play a stronger role in the way governments make policy decisions. Stuart Roberts, a citizen scientist himself, urged experts to work with skillful statisticians to use the latest tools to interpret all kinds of data, especially photos and videos, to avoid bias. 

Fairer transport in Europe could be achieved by tapping into valuable big data from social networks and mobile applications, stated Floridea di Ciommo of CambiaMO, also leading COST Action  Transport Equity Analysis . The price of citizens’ privacy was again part of the conversation, as Payal Arora of University of Amsterdam insisted people had to be at the heart of the debate on smart mobility. 


Women in quantum - and maths

Women are leading only 9% of all quantum technology projects in the UK. This is the picture Dr Ruth Oulton of University of Bristol painted at a COST-run session focusing on quantum physics, a field that could give women in science a chance to stand out. She also added that recruiting more women for PhD position was not the only answer to the problem. Instead of imposing quotas on male-dominated boards, both men and women should discuss the issue of gender equality in the quantum field. This is relevant, given that  a survey ran as part of Dr Oulton’s COST Action found that gender imbalance in the field was not broadly regarded as an issue, to begin with . Alongside the Quantum Flagship, another solution seemed to be a dual career, meaning hiring both a man and a woman for the same research position in institutes or universities.  Maria Chiara Carrozza (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies) revealed another opportunity for gender balance in science and at a corporate executive level: connecting science to social sciences and art.

Joanna Jordan, leading  COST Action Mi-NET , showed her audience another side of mathematics, as she explained how one of the oldest sciences in the world can help improve drug delivery, analyse human genome data, improve the design of planes or cars or help companies make crucial business decisions. 


One health for all 

A panel of food scientists, epidemiologists, veterinarians and economists opened a lively debate on a single approach to sustainable health, connecting humans, animals and the environment. The audience was keen on discussing ways of achieving the idea behind “one health”, a concept that should be a concrete goal and not wishful thinking. Maurizio Aragrande of University of Bologna, also part of  COST Action One Health , stated that grassroots initiatives and education were key to changing mindsets, thus achieving a common way to better health for all.

The next city to host ESOF is  Trieste , with the event happening on 4-10 July 2020.   

Missed us at ESOF 2018? For any questions, contact us at  communications@cost.eu .

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