Is science focusing on the right things and is it doing them well? Research has shown that science is still a ‘strong brand’. But there are risks, such as high expectations from the public, closer relationships between science and interested parties and the image of science in the media.
In the first instance, guaranteeing confidence is a matter for the scientific world itself. However, external parties such as financiers, public authorities, the media and the educational establishment can also contribute. These are the conclusions of the Academy in the report published today by the Confidence and Integrity in Science Committee.
The basic condition for confidence is scientific integrity. This is primarily the responsibility of science itself. In order to facilitate self-correction, universities and research institutes – in addition to imposing codes of conduct – should provide sufficient scope for internal (peer pressure) and external (peer review) checks on the pursuit of science.
External parties also play a role with regard to confidence in science. For instance, growing financial pressure may lead to excessive expectations and challenge the independence of researchers. The Academy is advocating a better balance between the quest for innovation and scope for scientific checks, such as duplication and verification of research and peer reviews.
As a party instructing scientific research and advice, the government should respect the independent position of science. In an ideal situation, the scientific community acts as a scenario broker that also indicates the limits of certainty and predictability. With regard to dealing with scientific advice, government-wide agreements should be concluded. The Academy believes the appointment of a Government Chief Scientific Adviser to counsel the prime minister, as is the case in Canada and the UK, is worth considering.
Confidence in science also depends on the image of science communicated in the media and on social media. Knowledge centres must therefore equip researchers for clear scientific communication. Instead of a unilateral focus on results, there should be more emphasis on scientific thinking and practice and the associated uncertainties and limits. In general, Dutch science journalism functions satisfactorily and provides a balanced view.
The education system – from primary school to a PhD programme – can play an important role in presenting a realistic image of science. In the bachelor and master phase, practical examples can be discussed based on the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Scientific Practice. In primary and secondary education, emphasis should be placed on encouraging interest in science and the value of scientific research.
The Academy committee – which drew up the advisory report on confidence and integrity in science at the request of the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science – was chaired by Prof. Keimpe Algra.