Digital media in crisis situations: rethinking their role and function

What has been the role of the media, including social media and local news, on our public debate, attitudes and behaviour during the coronavirus pandemic?

Trends point in different directions. Science advisors have gained high public profiles, with frequent media appearances that emphasise that government policy is ‘science-led’. At the same time, the pandemic has coincided with a climate of populism, ‘post-truth’ and ‘fake news’, made easier by social media and other digital platforms that can spread misinformation, uncertainty and fear.

The webinar “Digital media in crisis situations: rethinking their role and function” is organized by the Academia Europaea Cardiff Knowledge Hub. Time: March 1th, 15.30-16.30 CET. Registration here:

Digital media in crisis situations: rethinking their role and function

Taking action on plastics pollution: are biodegradable plastics the answer?

February 4th, 2021. 15:00. Online webinar

In this SAPEA webinar, a distinguished panel of experts will explore the potential role that biodegradable plastics could play in our society, and what practical steps are needed next to shape European policy on the issue. The audience will be able to pose questions and contribute to the debate.

Registration here.

The 2021 SDG Conference

February 10. – 12. 2021, Bergen, online event

The 2021 SDG Conference considers the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on equality

While the world has united behind the 2030 Agenda, rising global inequalities have long threatened to derail the progress made so far. Adding to this, the outbreak of covid-19 has had devastating impacts across the world. Recognizing this global fundamental challenge, the 2021 SDG Conference Bergen focuses on tackling global inequalities, relevant for all of the goals, to achieve a new path for sustainable development, after the crisis.

The Arctic Frontiers 2021 conference: Building Bridges

February 1. – 4. 2021, Tromso, online event

The title of the Arctic Frontiers 2021 conference is Building Bridges. This is in recognition of the strength that is gained by safeguarding the Arctic as a region of peace and global example of cooperation in an age of growing tensions and world-wide uncertainty. It also represents the need for open, honest discussions on difficult topics to ensure that polarization of positions do not create further isolation for societies and degradation of business opportunities. The AE-Bergen Hub is an associated partner.

The Arctic Frontier 2021 – Building Bridges Plenary program will bring together decision makers, indigenous leaders, business and youth representative to discuss the most pressing issues facing the Arctic.

Christmas Greetings from Academic Director, professor Eystein Jansen

christmas greeting

Although some of our planned activities were postponed or cancelled in 2020, we are eager to reinsert some in the plans for 2021, writes academic director, professor Eystein Jansen.

As we approach the end of 2020 and look ahead into the next year, we are acutely aware that we are living under very special circumstances. The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally affected many aspects of our lives, our work, and the Bergen Hub. It has impeded our ability to reach out and integrate academic scholarship and knowledge with society, which is the heart and raison d´être for our Hub.

Although there is hope for a different situation as mass vaccination is implemented during the first half of next year, we foresee that the pandemic will influence a large part of 2021, and likely influence academic life in years to come. As digital forms of exchange and communication has replaced physical meetings, and shown that it is possible to do without many travels, we will probably converge to a less physical and more digital way of conducting our activities, or hybrids between the two.

Our environmental and climatic footprint will be reduced, but it comes at a cost, as in-person meetings, networking and informal and social exchanges is key to our life as academics. I am most worried about the impact on young researchers, who need to meet and be inspired by others to build up independent careers and scientific pathways. Hence, when programming Hub activities in the post-pandemic era, we should ensure that we strengthen our capacity to support the careers of the next generation of eminent researchers. Things will be different, but we need to ensure that we stick to our mission.

The pandemic raises many questions and gives rich and novel data sets for many investigations of our societies, including health care systems, governance, scientific prioritizations – to name some. It is already clear that many countries considered to be very resilient to disruptions, and with seemingly strong health care systems have not lived up to such expectations. Others have handled the pandemic surprisingly well, despite having health care systems considered to be vulnerable prior to the pandemic. The evidence now at hand underscores the necessity of a renewed discussion on the role of science advice for policy, and the role of politics vs expert opinions in decision making in crises.

Through the SAPEA consortium our Hub nominated experts to the evaluation conducted by the EU Commission´s science advice mechanism (SAM) on pandemic preparedness. You can read more about this in the interview with Professor Rebecca Cox at the AE-Bergen website.

The evidence now at hand underscores the necessity of a renewed discussion on the role of science advice for policy, and the role of politics vs expert opinions in decision making in crises.

It is important to recognize and communicate that the solution to the pandemic through vaccination has been founded on long-term blue-sky research. The successful development of novel vaccine technologies, such as those based on mRNA, is a result of bottom-up basic science projects awarded to the best talents with the best ideas, e.g., from ERC.

It was thus disappointing to see the lack of priority given to frontier research in the EU Council proposal for the EU 7-year multiannual budget. Only after a strong mobilisation from the research community and friends in the European Parliament did we avoid a very negative development in the funding of our best research talents through the ERC. Yet thousands of completely brilliant research ideas will continue to remain unfunded, constituting a severe loss for our societies. Hence, an important part of the activities of our Hub will be to establish arenas for disseminating these aspects and promote the key role of fundamental research. We will be happy to receive ideas for how to do this in the Nordic/Baltic region and will engage with Young Academies in this endeavour.

Although some of our planned activities were postponed or cancelled in 2020, we are eager to reinsert some in the plans for 2021. We have plans for events on green transport during the Arctic Frontiers conference and the Sustainable Development Conference, both in February 2021 (stay tuned), and for a physical meeting of our Advisory Board and Steering Groups when the situation a

llows for this, hopefully in the spring of 2021.

We welcome the new AE Hubs in Budapest and Munich and look forward to engaging in Hub-to-Hub activities in the coming years. The Bergen Hub has established an entity to enable us to take part in external projects, such as in Horizon Europe. We look forward to being a partner in various projects in Horizon Europe in the years to come.

An important aspect is the current nomination cycle for new members of AE. If we are to increase our impact it is important that we attract the most active scholars across all fields. Please think about your colleagues and networks and identify candidates that should be nominated. We can clearly do with a better gender balance and a larger and younger base of members to ensure that the leading scholars in our region have a home in our Academy.

I will also use this opportunity to congratulate Marja Makarow on her appointment as AE president. Marja also serves on our Advisory Board and we look forward to our future collaboration.

Best wishes for a healthy Christmas and a rewarding new year!

– Many of the lessons from Covid-19 can be applied to future epidemics

Professor Rebecca Cox, head of the Influenza Centre in Bergen, has been an expert consultant for the Independent Expert Report “Improving pandemic preparedness and management”, commissioned by the EU. She was nominated by the Academia Europaea Bergen Knowledge Hub (AE-Bergen) for the role. 

Professor Rebecca Cox, head of the Influenza Centre in Bergen, has been an expert consultant for the Independent Expert Report “Improving pandemic preparedness and management”.

Professor Rebecca Cox, head of the Influenza Centre in Bergen. Photo: Kim E. Andreassen

As part of the EU’s Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM), AE-Bergen regularly nominates experts to contribute to various reports, including evidence review reports from the consortium ‘Science Advice for Policy by European Academies’ – SAPEA. The recently published independent expert report on the response to and the lessons from the Covid-19 outbreak, points to several recommendations to improve pandemic response in the future. We asked Professor Rebecca Cox to sum up some of the challenges in working on the report, as well as to comment on some of the recommendations given.     

You can download the report here.

 Covid-19 is an ongoing crisis. What were the challenges in evaluating an ongoing situation? 

– The main challenges were the ever-increasing scientific evidence and rapidly evolving epidemic with the second wave of the pandemic in Europe which required a thorough review of the scientific literature including preprints. The question posed by the EU were complex and challenging and they required a rapid answer due to the importance of a rapid response for the continent. 

– The title of the report is “Improving pandemic preparedness and management”. How prepared were Europe and the rest of the world for this pandemic and what will we learn in preparing for the next one? 

– Generally, a number of EU countries were well prepared for an influenza pandemic but not for a such a serious coronavirus pandemic. The challenges of the ongoing pandemic were much greater than with an influenza pandemic where we have antivirals, pandemic vaccine pre-approved for manufacturing and of course pre-existing immunity. In 2009 influenza pandemic some of the most vulnerable people the elderly had pre-existing immunity which prevented severe infection

– I think we have learnt many important lessons in how we can combat a future pandemic using good hygiene and social distancing. Clearly many countries were not prepared for a pandemic of this severity and there will be may lessons to be learned which can also be applied to future epidemics. 

– What areas of this report have been of particular interest to you? 

– I am most interested in the way Covid-19 has changed our society so drastically in 2020 and how we can harness the lessons learned to build a continent that is better prepared for the next epidemic and pandemic. The emphasis on equitable and fair access to health and social care across the EU and strength of public health responses and particularly the versatility the EU has shown in collaboration, partnership and funding possibilities for research. 

– Which of the final recommendations in the report do you find be the most important ones?  

– I think all of the final recommendations are very important to guide how we should live with a preparedness for future epidemics and pandemics, strengthening of public health system and collaboration across the EU: 

– What place do you see for UiB in upcoming Covid-19 research? 

– UiB has a very important role in Covid-19 research with the newly opened pandemic centre. UiB hosts many projects looking at many of the important aspects of the pandemic from population-based studies in the community, in health care and social care settings to the psychological and economic impact of the pandemicRebecca Cox says.  

She is also conducting a major Covid-19 research project herself, and leads the Bergen COVID-19 research group which is following the outbreak from the first cases and also through the coming waves of the pandemicThis study has recruited over 1700 health care workers and patients (both in and outpatients and their household members) to study the infection risk in healthcare institutions, families and in the community.  

– Our ongoing work is looking at the duration of immunity after infection, characterising how disease severity influences immune responses and investigating the long-term complications after COVID-19. 

Rebecca Cox is the head of the Influenza Centre in Bergen.