Category Archives: Interviews

Interviews with various people working in publishing and research.

Between science and policy: an interview with Dr Toby Wardman

Even though scientists are oftentimes lost in the ivory towers of their scientific work, academic research in any discipline – and especially psychology – is tightly connected to the society. It contributes to the improvement of the living conditions in the population. It supports the decision-making process of policy-makers with scientific evidence. And it is paid for by the tax-payers’ money. In an attempt to ensure that this natural relationship between science and society is always well-balanced, we make policies – governmental policies, international policies, institutional policies. The field at the interplay between science and policy-making – very intuitively coined ‘science policy’ – therefore concerns itself with topics such as the allocation of resources for scientific research, the careers of scientists, and the systems of efficient communication between scientists and policy-makers (Pielke, 2005).

Precisely this area of science communication is the field of interest of Dr Toby Wardman. He works in SAPEA – Scientific Advice for Policy by European Academies. SAPEA is a part of European Commission’s strivings to efficiently communicate with academic researchers and inform the decisions on new policies with scientific evidence. Its role is to provide timely, independent and evidence-based scientific opinion on a diverse set of relevant topics to both the EU policy-makers and the wider public. By bringing together the knowledge and expertise of scientists from Academies and Learned Societies in over 40 countries across Europe, SAPEA plays a crucial role in bringing the scientific findings from the lab bench to the policy desk.

When it comes to big questions, such as genetic modification, or cybersecurity, the quality of the policy will necessarily depend on the quality of the scientific evidence. In an attempt to gather comprehensive evidence and policy advice in a robust and efficient system, European Union relies on an in-house advisory body called Scientific Advice Mechanism. This body is run by 7 prominent scientists, and through SAPEA (and several other mechanisms) it provides independent scientific advice directly to European Commissioners. By acquiring scientific evidence on relevant policy initiatives and debates from many hubs of expertise in different European countries, this mechanism optimises the objectivity of evidence-based policy recommendations.

Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) – the process of closing the gap between scientific evidence and policy in the European Commission.

The scientists’ role in this process is pivotal; after all, each researcher is the best connoisseur of their own research. Communicating research outside narrow academic circuits is also a highly valuable skill within the academic community – it improves academic prospects and brings new perspectives into researchers’ scientific work. Yet many believe that scientists still do not engage enough in public outreach, and call for more education on science communication (including strategies to counteract the post-truth culture that propagates misinformation). In an interview following our meeting at a workshop on science communication, I talked with Toby about science, policy, communication – and everything in-between. Enjoy the interview! (And want to know more? Check out the ‘Further readings’ below.)

 

You started off as an academic studying philosophy of science, but then took a turn towards science and policy communication. Tell us a bit about your background, where did you start from, and how did you end up where you are today?

Actually, I started work in communications straight after my Bachelors degree and have worked full-time ever since – I studied both my masters and my PhD part-time alongside working. My jobs have been a mix of science communication (which I do now) and political communications, mostly in the UK. I worked on the EU referendum on the Remain side, and when it all went wrong, my wife and I decided that enough was enough and we moved to Brussels. Now I work for SAPEA, part of the European Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism that provides science advice for EU policy-makers.

Many people these days argue that political decisions should be more informed by the results of scientific research. However, scientists and politicians tend to speak completely different languages – which poses a massive challenge to evidence-based policy. How does the EU bridge this gap between science the policy?

The EU actually has a pretty robust setup so that policy-makers can get advice from scientists. EU policies generally start life as drafts from the European Commission, so that’s where the Scientific Advice Mechanism comes in. Before drafting a new policy, Commissioners can ask us any question about the state of science in that area. In response, we give them two documents: a comprehensive and independent review of the evidence, which is done by SAPEA (‘Science Advice for Policy by European Academies’), consisting of experts from more than 100 European academies working together; and a Scientific Opinion which is drafted by the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors based on SAPEA’s evidence review. Those two documents are then used by the Commission to decide what policy action to take. Equally, the scientists themselves can offer advice to the Commission on topics which they think are important, rather than waiting to be asked the question.

And do you think that this mechanism works well? In other words, can we say that EU policies are evidence-based, or is there still space for improvement?

Yes, I think the EU sets a pretty good example in this field. The Commission has access to very high-quality science advice, and the impact of that advice can be clearly seen in the proposals they write, especially in technical fields, which are often very closely based on the science.

Of course, that’s not to say that every new EU law looks exactly how scientists might want it to look. Firstly, there is always room for improvement. And secondly, it’s important to remember that we don’t really want our public policy to be dictated exclusively by science. We live in a democracy, not a technocracy. The role of scientists is to provide evidence and advice, and the role of politicians is to weigh up that evidence and advice, along with many other considerations, when deciding what policy measures to adopt. Science is value-neutral: it can give us information about the way the world works and what effect certain actions might have, but it can’t tell us what is the right thing to do, or what the public supports.

Many of our readers are students and young researchers who might be thinking about continuing their careers outside of academia. What are the pros and cons of your current job, as compared to doing full-time academic work?

For me, science communication in general sits in the sweet spot between academia and the rest of the world. On the plus side, I get to work closely with Europe’s top researchers and dive into all kinds of interesting scientific areas, while also keeping a foot in the policy side of things and seeing our work have a real, concrete impact on legislation and people’s behaviour. The obvious downside, compared to academia, is the fact that you are always working on someone else’s research – never doing your own.

One of the projects you worked on included training early-stage social science researchers in communication. Why is it important for the early-career researchers to work on their communication skills? And do you have some good resources to recommend to our readers?

We need scientists who can communicate! And most importantly, we need good young communicators who are able to reach out authentically to people of their own generation. That means early career researchers. The training programmes I ran were only a few years ago, and when I recall the content, it already seems embarrassingly out-of-date.

As for resources, honestly the best advice I can give is to practise! Communication, outreach, dissemination – whatever you want to call it, it should be a key part of every academic’s skillset, not an optional extra. So seize every opportunity to write for, or speak to, a non-specialist audience. There are loads of outlets out there which are crying out for good quality content. And even academic journals increasingly have an ‘editorial’ or ‘magazine’ section, or an online companion magazine, which welcomes contributions. As a professional science communicator, I probably shouldn’t say this, but communicating isn’t rocket science. You can just jump in and do it, and learn on the job. That’s how I learned, anyway!

You had the pleasure – or maybe the displeasure – of working on the EU referendum campaign in the UK. How do you think Brexit will affect science and academic collaboration in Europe?

Ugh. It’s already damaging it. Even before the Brexit vote happened, there was clear evidence that UK researchers were starting to get overlooked when it came to putting together project collaborations and applying for funds. That’s really bad news for the UK, obviously, which has always done disproportionately well when it comes to winning EU research funding. But it’s also bad news for research across Europe, because Britain has traditionally had a lot to offer.

It’s depressing, because research collaboration is really one of the most obvious benefits of EU membership. And no matter what you think about issues of sovereignty or migration or whatever, you surely have to agree that combining our firepower – both in terms of collaborations and funding – is obviously a good idea when it comes to research. It simply makes no sense for 28 countries to spend money 28 times over.

Now that Brexit is happening, it’s not just loss of collaborations and loss of funding, but also the very real danger of “brain drain”. If you’re a talented researcher from anywhere in the world, and European universities are competing to attract you, why would you choose the UK? Of course, individual researchers will still be able to collaborate, but without the EU’s framework, it will just make everything much harder and therefore less likely to happen.

 Any last comments, thoughts, or recommendations for our readers?

Sometimes I think of science communication as a necessary and temporary evil: we only need science communicators because scientists haven’t learned to communicate, and if only the next generation of researchers would learn how to communicate themselves directly, then they wouldn’t need people like me. So if you have an interest in outreach as well as an interest in your particular research area, then great! Being able to sell what you do to a wider audience will always be a boost to your academic career, and it’s only going to get more important.

But then at other times I think that’s nonsense. Sure, some researchers are good at communicating, and that’s wonderful. But many others aren’t, because they don’t have the right skillset or the right interests – and why should they? If you’re good at doing something, you should be able to focus on it even if you’re not also good at talking about it. So I guess I’m saying: if you don’t have an interest in outreach, that’s ok too. It will keep people like me in a job!

 

Want to embrace Toby’s advice and try out your science communication skills by writing a blogpost for JEPS Bulletin? Write to us at bulletin@efpsa.org!

 

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Karla Matić

Karla Matić is a psychology graduate of University of Leuven with interests in cognitive neuroscience, large-scale neuroimaging methodology, and science policy. She is currently an intern in the European Research Council (ERC) in Brussels. If she didn't aspire for an academic career, she would be running a book-café on a small Croatian island.

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Publishing a Registered Report as an Undergraduate: An Interview with Tatiana Kvetnaya

In the past, we have talked a lot about Registered Reports and their potential to increase the rigor and reproducibility of psychological science (see here, here, and here). In a previous blog post, James Bartlett interviewed Dr. Hannah Hobson, who published a Registered Report as part of her PhD project.

In this blog post, we talk with Tatiana Kvetnaya who received her Bachelor degree from the University of Tübingen, and who is currently pursuing her graduate studies at the Goethe University Frankfurt. Excitingly, Tatiana recently published her bachelor thesis as a Registered Report with the Journal of European Psychology Students. Below, she recounts how she first came in contact with Registered Reports, her experience publishing one herself, and tips for students thinking about doing the same. Continue reading

Fabian Dablander

Fabian Dablander just finished his Masters in Cognitive Science at the University of Tübingen. He is interested in innovative ways of data collection, Bayesian statistics, and open science. You can find him on Twitter @fdabl.

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Technology-assisted Therapy: An Interview with “Aaron T. Beck” Professor Daniel David

The technological developments we see today set a whole new view of life as we know it. Starting with the Industrial Revolution, and getting to robot assisted mass production of goods, we get to use intelligent machines in order to make life easier and evolve as a species. And psychology is not an exception. Ever since ELIZA was developed to simulate a psychotherapist in the ‘60s (try it for yourself here) computers have been widely used within clinical psychology and psychotherapy. Today, we will be talking about the efforts of the Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy School of “Babeș-Bolyai” University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania in pursuing Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) research and practice excellence.

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Ioana Piscoi

Currently a first year Master Student of Clinical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy at "Babes-Bolyai" University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania, Ioana is interested in developing her skills to become an ACT Therapist. She is particularly interested in the field of Personality Disorders and Techlonogy Assisted Psychotherapies, wishing to pursue a PhD in the future.

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“WHAT REALLY MATTERS IS SCIENTIFIC PROGRESS AND NOT PERSONAL SUCCESS.” — AN INTERVIEW WITH PROF. DORTHE BERNTSEN

Take a minute to think about the following question. Who are you?

In trying to come up with an answer, you most likely have relied on knowledge about your past experiences. You might have thought about where you grew up, where you went to school or university, your current career, or your particular interests and hobbies. Most of these memories are autobiographical. Continue reading

Nicola Falzon

After finishing her Bachelor's in Psychology at the University of Malta, Nicola Falzon currently works at YMCA Homeless Shelter, working with diverse clients presenting various difficulties and at Willingness Malta, organising various scientific events and being involved in various projects related to sexuality. She intends to sit for a Masters in Counselling Psychology in the near future and go on to further her studies in the field of sexuality and gender diversity.

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Accelerating Psychological Science with Large-Scale Collaborations

Science is the collaborative attempt to understand ourselves and the world around us better by gathering and evaluating evidence. Ironically enough, we are pretty bad at evaluating evidence. Luckily, others rejoice in pointing out our flaws. It is this reciprocal corrective process which is at the core of science, and the reason why it works so well. Working collaboratively helps us catch and correct each other’s mistakes.
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Fabian Dablander

Fabian Dablander just finished his Masters in Cognitive Science at the University of Tübingen. He is interested in innovative ways of data collection, Bayesian statistics, and open science. You can find him on Twitter @fdabl.

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“Bullied Into Bad Science”: An Interview with Corina Logan

The last two years have seen a lot of talk about the issues of science and scientific publishing – and how the incentives prevalent in science (publish or perish, preferably with high-impact stories with lots of news coverage) are actually bad for science. Corina Logan, a zoologist and part of a group of postdocs from the University of Cambridge is eager to push for a change in the publishing culture. They argue that the current way of publishing is hindering the progress of science. A recent column by Brian Martinson in Nature summarises the problem nicely: “[The fact that researchers need publications encourages] all manner of corner-cutting, sloppiness in research, and other degradations in the quality of publications, not to mention an obvious motive for plagiarism. A quest for high-profile papers leads researchers to favour a spectacular result, even if it is specious. Authors cite themselves to boost the impact of publications, and cite colleagues to curry favour.” Continue reading

Katharina Brecht

Katharina Brecht

After finishing her PhD at the University of Cambridge, Katharina is currently a Postdoc in the Institute of Neurobiology at the University of Tübingen. Her research interests revolve around the mechanisms of social and causal cognition in animals.

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Not solely about that Bayes: Interview with Prof. Eric-Jan Wagenmakers

Last summer saw the publication of the most important work in psychology in decades: the Reproducibility Project (Open Science Collaboration, 2015; see here and here for context). It stirred up the community, resulting in many constructive discussions but also in verbally violent disagreement. What unites all parties, however, is the call for more transparency and openness in research.

Eric-Jan “EJ” Wagenmakers has argued for pre-registration of research (Wagenmakers et al., 2012; see also here) and direct replications (e.g., Boekel et al., 2015; Wagenmakers et al., 2015), for a clearer demarcation of exploratory and confirmatory research (de Groot, 1954/2013), and for a change in the way we analyze our data (Wagenmakers et al., 2011; Wagenmakers et al., in press). Continue reading

Fabian Dablander

Fabian Dablander just finished his Masters in Cognitive Science at the University of Tübingen. He is interested in innovative ways of data collection, Bayesian statistics, and open science. You can find him on Twitter @fdabl.

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Publishing a Registered Report as a Postgraduate Researcher

Registered Reports (RRs) are a new publishing format pioneered by the journal Cortex (Chambers 2013). This publication format emphasises the process of rigorous research, rather than the results, in an attempt to avoid questionable research practices such as p-hacking and HARK-ing, which ultimately reduce the reproducibility of research and contribute to publication bias in cognitive science (Chambers et al. 2014). A recent JEPS post by Dablander (2016) and JEPS’ own editorial for adopting RRs (King et al. 2016) have given a detailed explanation of the RR process. However, you may have thought that publishing a RR is reserved for only senior scientists, and is not a viable option for a postgraduate student. In fact, 5 out of 6 of the first RRs published by Cortex have had post-graduate students as authors, and publishing by RR offers postgraduates and early career researchers many unique benefits. Continue reading

James Bartlett

James Bartlett

I'm James Bartlett, a PhD student at Coventry University, UK. The aim of my project is to create a profile of cognitive mechanisms associated with substance use in light and heavy smokers. I keep myself occupied outside of academia by playing hockey, or watching ice hockey. You can also find me on Twitter (@JamesEBartlett).

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The Statistics Hell has expanded: An interview with Prof. Andy Field

FieldDoes the mention of the word “statistics” strike fear into your heart and send shivers down your spine? The results section of your thesis seeming like that dark place one should avoid at all cost? Heteroscedasticity gives you nightmares? You dread having to explain to someone what degrees of freedom are? What is the point of using ANOVA if we can do a series of t-tests? If any of these remind you of the pain of understanding statistics, or the dread of how much more lies ahead during your studies, when all you really want is someone to explain it in a humanly understandable way—look no further. Quite a few fellow students might tell you “You should go and look at Andy Field’s books. Now, at least, I understand stats”. The “Discovering statistics using …” is a gentle, student friendly introduction to statistics. Principles are introduced at a slow pace, with plenty of workable examples so that anyone with basic maths skills will be able to digest it. Now add a lens of humor and sarcasm that will have you giggling about statistics in no time! Continue reading

Lea Jakob

Lea Jakob

Lea Jakob is currently finishing her psychology Master’s degree at University of Zagreb, Centre for Croatian Studies. Her research interests include clinical psychology within which she is writing her masters thesis on the topic of cognitive impairment in pulmonary patients as well as music perception and cognition. Apart from her passion for research, she has a serious case of wanderlust paired with polyglotism.

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Meet the Authors

Do you wish to publish your work but don’t know how to get started? We asked some of our student authors, Janne Hellerup Nielsen, Dimitar Karadzhov, and Noelle Sammon, to share their experience of getting published. Continue reading

Leonor Agan

Leonor is a postgraduate student at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences (University of Edinburgh), pursuing a MSc in Neuroimaging for Research. She holds a BSc in Psychology from the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines and a BA in Psychology from Maynooth University in Ireland.  She worked as a Research Assistant in Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, Complex and Adaptive Systems Laboratory (University College Dublin), and Psychology Department (University College Dublin). Her research interests include cognition, memory, and neuroimaging techniques, specifically diffusion MRI and its applications in disease. She is also an Editor of the Journal of European Psychology Students. Find her on Twitter @leonoragan and link in with her.

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