The importance of making research understandable for society and getting people’s attention

#Standbehindscience is happy to share with our readers @Pierre Sabbadinis, Institute for Interdisciplinary Research in Legal Sciences from UCLouvain (Belgium), opinion on scientific communication in 2020 and the tremendous societal role of research. According to him, research has a tremendous societal role. Very interesting to read more about that topic related to economic law. Thank you very much, Pierre.

Could you please introduce yourself (short bio: who you are, what you do, what you like)?

I am a lawyer specialized in European economic law (M&A, State aid, cartels, internal market, insurance, pension & benefits, audit.). I have been in private practice for several years as an attorney and as an in-house counsel. I started my PhD research in 2017 at the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium) with a focus on the regulation of supplementary pensions. I am currently working in this field at a financial institution.

What do you think about the way academic research is disseminated towards non-academic audiences? From your point of view, what’s the impact of academic research on our society? Could it be improved?

Based on my experience as a social science (law) researcher, I would say that scientific communication both internally (within one’s research institute) and externally (both to the scientific community and to non-specialized audience) is crucial for at least four reasons.

First, awareness about one’s research allows feedback, references, and various forms of cooperation with other researchers. In a world producing exponentially growing research output, it also contributes to avoid duplicate research to ensure a more efficient allocation of public funds to research. Second, academic research is supposed to fulfil a duty to society by investing time in issues to solve and by informing the public about it. Third, securing funding for research and performing in external assessments and rankings requires efficient and clear communication to external reviewers and potential donors.

In addition, there is a pressure in academia to speed up the publication of results that is sometimes coupled with the need to fit this communication in channels requiring a considerable effort of simplification and reformatting. That is an important requirement to take into account to compete with other content providers for a share of people’s attention.

In my opinion, scientific posters form one adequate medium to perform communication to the diverse types of audiences mentioned above. Indeed, posters follow a structured format delivering a message that is to the point. It allows people to grasp the idea behind one’s research, the method and expected results. In addition, by circulating one’s poster, it is also acting as a business card placing your research on the map of the scientific community.

What is your opinion about making research data FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) like stated in the Sorbonne Declaration?

This is a complex topic with many stakeholders involved in hot debates. Indeed, academic research is as reliable as data and documentation one can rely on. In this respect, the Sorbonne Declaration is a laudable initiative to consider in this debate. Other elements include regulatory initiative have been implemented in certain countries, such as in Belgium, to promote open access to articles published in journals by researchers receiving funding from public institutions. UCLouvain and other Belgian universities have implemented open access policies via the creation of repositories (e.g. https://dial.uclouvain.be; https://orbi.uliege.be) in which a large share is available to the public. The underlying reasoning was that if researchers receive publics funding to produce research, it should be made accessible to the public. This may collide with the commercial logic in the publishing sector and the issue was resolved by allowing to set an embargo for a limited duration before making a publication available to the public. The question of access to data and research is ultimately a political one.