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Europe needs to be at the forefront of ‘Science 2.0’ – Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. Image: Anne Marie Lykkegaard/ESOF2014
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. Image: Anne Marie Lykkegaard/ESOF2014

An explosion in research data combined with an increasing number of people who can use it is transforming science, and Europe should be at the forefront of the change, said Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science.

‘We must ensure that we are at the forefront of the next paradigm shift,’ Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn told the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF), a science conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. ‘The European Union has a real chance to become a global leader here. I can say this with confidence because we’re already pioneers in so many areas.’

Dubbed ‘Science 2.0’, a reference to the internet revolution ‘Web 2.0’ which saw the integration of social media and location-based services, the transformation that is happening in science is based on the increasingly open nature of the scientific process.

‘This “opening up” could affect every step in the research cycle, from agenda setting and the inception of research, to how it is performed, to how findings are published, and how the results are used and by whom,’ Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn said during a keynote presentation at the event, which ran from 21 to 26 June.

‘The changes are coming from the bottom up, led by scientists themselves,’ she said.

Republic of knowledge

More and more people are getting involved in science. That is being fuelled by a growth in the number of research institutions worldwide, but also by an increase in citizen science – where scientists collaborate with non-specialists.

‘Does this mean that we are moving from a long-established system of a happy few to a more open “republic of knowledge”? If so, what are the expectations on each side?’ Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn said.

‘We must ensure that we are at the forefront of the next paradigm shift.’

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

It’s an idea that has been explored by a number of EU-funded research projects. The VOICES project, which ended at the start of this year, asked for people to give their ideas about how to manage urban waste.

Another EU-funded project, SOCIENTIZE, which gets citizens involved in helping research such as spotting cancer cells and counting sunspots, was on display at the European Commission’s stand in the ESOF exhibition hall along with a number of other EU-funded projects, including DIGISTONE which has developed a prototype concrete display screen for outdoor advertising.

A separate citizen science initiative known as Zooniverse has brought together specialised projects such as Galaxy Zoo, a website set up by astronomers to encourage the public to help them classify galaxies.

This increase in the number of researchers comes amid an exponential rise in the amount of data being produced. In fact, 90 % of all the data in the world was generated over the past two years, according to Norwegian research organisation SINTEF.

And this data is increasingly accessible. The EU has already decided that if any research funded under Horizon 2020, running from 2014 to 2020, gets published it must be available on an open access basis.

In order to work out the best way to further nurture the emergence of Science 2.0 in Europe, Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn said the EU was preparing to launch a consultation in the next couple of weeks.*

‘We're holding this consultation to make sure we do the right thing as policymakers and we’re waiting for the results before we take any decisions. And doing the right thing can also mean doing nothing. You have to let us know if that's the best policy,’ she said.

‘And that brings me to my last word: if you’re not crazy about the term “Science 2.0”, the last part of the consultation lets you suggest a better name.’

* The public consultation will be published on the European Commission's website.

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