Academies reject Horizon 2020 pledge on social sciences

The European Alliance for the Social Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA) has rejected the European Commission’s view that social sciences and humanities are adequately covered in the European Union’s proposed Horizon 2020 research programme.

It calls for an added dimension to be established on "understanding Europe in a global context – transitions towards innovative and inclusive societies".

Europe’s research ministers have already argued that social sciences and humanities should be given a more prominent role in Horizon 2020, the next European Union framework programme for 2014-20. Commission plans would make Horizon 2020 the world’s largest publicly financed research programme with a proposed budget of €80 billion (US$105 billion).

ALLEA, which comprises 53 national academies of sciences, social sciences and humanities in 40 European countries and aims to represent the voice of social sciences and humanities in Europe, met in Amsterdam on 27-28 March to discuss the EU Commission’s proposal to include social science and humanities in Horizon 2020 as 'horizontal' or 'transversal' elements in separate programmes.

ALLEA said that this is not enough to meet the demands of the 25,000 scientists who have signed a petition for giving these disciplines a separate programme in Horizon 2020.

Rüdiger Klein, executive director of ALLEA, told University World News that Horizon 2020 had to include a clear budget commitment for the social sciences and humanities components in an extra ‘societal challenge’ – addressing specific research needs in social, economic and cultural domains – and a transparent mechanism for including social sciences and humanities expertise into the other scientific ‘challenges’.

Christina Bitterberg of the German Aerospace Centre, spokesperson for the Net4Society project team that produced the open letter and collected the signatures, said:

“The open letter, signed by the 25,000 supporters, calls for an independent social sciences and humanities-centred programme (‘Challenge’) within Horizon 2020, that focuses on important societal and economic transformations, in areas as diverse as education, gender, identity, intercultural dialogue, media, security, social innovation, to name but a few.

“In addition, the letter promotes the implementation of social sciences and humanities research in all other challenges of Horizon 2020. It is certainly not sufficient to treat social sciences and humanities research only as a horizontal or transversal element.”

Pekka Sulkunen, president of the European Sociological Association (ESA)and a professor at Helsinki University, told University World News: “The exclusion of social sciences and humanities from Horizon 2020 is not only bad for the scientists in this area. Most significantly, it indicates a basic mistake in the EU understanding of science in society in general.

“The ESA has stressed in its several communications on Horizon 2020 and the European Research Area that seeing science only as an instrument of innovation is fatal both to science and innovation policy.

“Knowledge society requires above all a sound and strong educational and research basis – innovations are only a part of this wider whole.”

In February EU research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn responded to ministers' concerns by pledging that the social sciences and humanities would have a “vitally important role in all challenges in Horizon 2020”.

She said. “They will be embedded as an integral part of all activities, working beyond ‘the silos of distinct discipline.”

However, Sulkunen warned that the narrow idea of a linear continuum from basic to applied research to innovation to development to market results from competition between national governments for research resources, where EU funding is seen as a cost, not as an instrument in itself, created excessive expectations of the "usefulness" and added value of EU research input.

He said it was wrong to believe that the social sciences and humanities operated on a small scale that did not require EU-level funding. Key issues in European societies require efficient and sufficient resources for comparative studies that can only be met by common funding sources.

The reassurance that the disciplines will be included transversally means in practice that there will be no social sciences and humanities expertise to set priorities and design research programmes in the commission. This results in an immense need for lobbying on a daily basis, which would sap the resources of scientists, especially of scientific associations such as the ESA and similar learned societies, Sulkunen added.

“Europe is passing right now one of the most historic windows of what many believe to be its last opportunity to become a truly transnational society,” Sulkunen said. “Innovation policy based on a false idea of knowledge in society is not adequate to respond to this challenge.”

At a meeting at the British Academy in London on 10 November 2011, Geoghegan-Quinn confirmed that “future funding at the European level will provide significant space for social sciences and humanities research”.

She said Horizon 2020 would be structured around three pillars: "excellence in the science base", "creating industrial leadership and competitive frameworks" and "tackling societal challenges".

Klein said the Brussels meeting of the alliance agreed it was important to overcome the fragmentation of the social sciences and humanities communities and provide a collective voice.