Make room for the scientifist: the socially committed scientist is coming!

Currently, most of the knowledge developed at the university is not used. That must be different. Science must change. Various professors argue for this, who have already embraced this new form of science and are going through life as a scientifist: researchers moved and driven by society.

Scientists. What do you think about hearing that term? Perhaps to a person in a white lab coat who spends most of his career behind a computer, microscope, telescope, particle accelerator and other scientific tools. Behind him or her a dusty cupboard with stacked papers that bear witness to his or her hard work. Nice for the CV or the grant application, but the results are no longer counted.

One leg in society
For years, scientists could get away with that. But that is changing, concludes Martine van Veelen. She is head of education at Climate-KIC, a European initiative to encourage innovation in climate adaptation and mitigation. Under her editors, the book with the significant title was published last MondayValue of science". The book argues for a new scientist. One that, as Van Veelen says so nicely, "stands with one leg in the academy and with one leg in society". And that new scientist has to go to innovative science in particular in the field of sustainability and climate applied.

"The world's problems are getting bigger and more complex and solutions have to come from science, because that's where the clever heads are"

The trends
The plea for such a researcher is supported by two important trends. “On the one hand you see that the subsidies are declining. A few weeks ago, the Dutch government announced that it would invest less in science and innovation, "says Van Veelen in an interview with "That means that universities - which run on subsidies - have to look for a new business model." But there is more to it. “As a society we have to deal with many major problems. Consider water and food scarcity, overpopulation, climate change, and so on. Those problems are becoming larger and more complex and require innovative solutions. And those solutions must come from science, because there are the good minds. Researchers have really good ideas, but they often do little with them simply because that is theirs core business is not. After all, they are ultimately not judged by the application of their research, but by the number of publications that they have in their name. ”And so good ideas end up in dusty cupboards. "We produce a lot of knowledge in the Netherlands, but we don't let it circulate," writes scientist Jan Rotmans in the book. “In other words: it does not end up in the right places. Now in Rotterdam 99% of the knowledge developed at the university is not used. "


Scientists are therefore generally not used enough and are innovative. But that is not just a Dutch problem. “That is global, with the exception of a few countries. In the US, for example, they do it better. There you have Silicon Valleys where scientists collaborate with companies. That is also necessary, because there are not that many government subsidies available. "

But how can we change that? Various solutions are discussed in the book. Firstly, researchers must be guided more by what is going on in society and what is needed. "Science is primarily concerned with fundamental research," Van Veelen explains. "Where questions from the market and society do not by definition serve as a starting point." And that must be different, thinks researcher Maarten Steinbuch, who works at Eindhoven University. “We are no longer the technology carriers of the past. We must become problem owners of the things that go wrong in society and generate solutions for them. We must claim more social responsibility. ”Second, researchers must look for collaboration. Major problems extend beyond the boundaries of faculties, even the boundaries of science. That means collaborations between different disciplines, with companies, SMEs and governments. It requires a new scientist. One who is enterprising, thinks and does out-of-the-box and dares to step out of his lab: a scientifist, as Rotmans calls it so beautiful. “I am a scientist, activist and entrepreneur. Entrepreneur, activist and professor. "

"You have to go all out, you have to be entrepreneurial, you have to fight for your money"

Not all researchers are enthusiastic about that special new job description. They wonder if it can still be called science. "They are afraid of commerce," acknowledges Van Veelen. "They wonder whether independent research can still be done." But that is certainly possible, as the enterprising professors experience in the book. In fact: thanks to commerce! "People who do business provide money for fundamental research." Moreover, we must not forget that the cry for applied innovative research is a necessary one: there is no other way. "The professor used to sit at his desk and the money did come in," writes Rotmans. “But that dusty old teacher died out in ten years. You have to go all out, you have to be entrepreneurial, you have to fight for your money. ”

The system
Not only the scientist will have to change. "The entire academic system must change," says Van Veelen. "Scientists should not be judged by publications, but also by the number of patents that they have applied for." Because what is the value of science now? In paper ideas or applicable techniques? But of course the culture change starts with the researchers. “We don't want to force that on. Instead, we want to inspire people by, for example, giving them role models with which they can compare themselves with this book. But also by showing them places where it all happens. ”And those places are there. In the Netherlands too. “The technical universities do that very well. They have an excellent valorization system (a system to cash in on scientific knowledge and technology, ed.), Incubators and institutes that support the entire process. It results in many start-ups and patents and that proves that it works and that it is possible. "

The scientist of the future is in no way inferior to his predecessors. He's just different. “It is a researcher who is dealing with relevant problems in society. A researcher who stands with one leg in the academy and with one leg in society and has a good picture of the problems. A researcher who makes sure that science becomes part of society. ”How long will it be before that scientist sees the light of day on a large scale? “Universities are very classical institutions, so that can take a while. But it might just as well suddenly go very fast, because that is the only way science can survive. ”

Video: Scientists Surprised How People Survived in Medieval Castles (August 2019).