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!