ALLEA and the Council of Finnish Academies hosted an international scientific symposium online on 5 May 2021. The event gathered leading academics, policymakers, and civil society to rethink the role of science in society in response to wicked problems and particular threats like science disinformation.

A diverse programme of keynotes, plenary discussions and breakout sessions invited the participants to explore the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary research and the boundaries of science across regions, disciplines and generations. The conference closed with a dedicated presentation and discussion of ALLEA’s newly published report ‘Fact or Fake? Tackling Science Disinformation’.

Interdisciplinarity was the focus of the first part of the symposium which started with the keynote ‘Fostering convergence across disciplines’, by Academician of Science and Professor Riitta Hari (Aalto University).

As a physician herself working on neuroscience and arts, she reflected on her lessons learned to achieve convergence. Among her suggestions to move towards interdisciplinary, she underlined the need for deep knowledge foundations, the importance of learning how to work in a team (not in a group) and how to communicate with other disciplines.

Other speakers also recognised the great uncertainty that interdisciplinary research entails. “A discipline is like a security blanket for academics. Interdisciplinarity is inventing your own security blanket”, said Professor Joyce Tait (Co-Director at Innogen Institute, Royal Society of Edinburgh).

Moving into interdisciplinary research is not an easy choice for early-career researchers, argued Dr. Mona Mannevuo (Postdoctoral researcher, Young Academy Finland), but encouraged her fellows to think of interdisciplinarity as a strategy: “not for instrumental purposes but for restructuring the order of knowledge.”

Science, Politics and Disinformation

In the second part, ALLEA President Antonio Loprieno shared the stage with Adrienn Király, Head of Cabinet of European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, and Permanent Secretary Anita Lehikoinen, the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland. He presented his view on the future of academies when rethinking the boundaries between politics and science.

According to him, in times of crisis like the ongoing pandemic, academies may prove more flexible in providing science advice thanks to their experience and know-how on increased interdisciplinary interaction and flexibility.

The symposium closed with a final panel dedicated to discuss the recently published report ‘Fact or Fake? Tackling Science Disinformation’. Its lead author, Professor Dan Larhammar (President of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences), provided an overview on the main findings with an optimistic message, despite the dangers of this phenomenon.

Research provides a great deal of hope to fight disinformation. There is evidence that people can be made aware of disinformation. They can be inoculated against it”, he stated after presenting examples of strategies to counter science disinformation.

The symposium was recorded and is already available to watch here.

©Krister Majander