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About the Confidence in Research Initiative

November 1, 2022

The pandemic has transformed the scientific endeavor in many ways, giving it greater prominence and recognition but also creating higher expectations around pace and certainty. The urgency of the global health crisis spurred open science and data sharing, with rapid assessments resulting in quick breakthroughs that saved millions of lives and made household names of previously unknown scientists. Researchers also took to social media in greater numbers to share findings, collaborate across disciplines and help unpack the complexities of the pandemic to a concerned public. For researchers, heightened expectations have brought challenges as well: navigating huge quantities of information, finding relevant research, knowing what can be relied upon and tying together quality insights has become harder for researchers. The practice of science is complex, it can be messy; research is about experimentation, testing and refining hypotheses — yet the public, policymakers and the media increasingly want certainty, simple stories and clear conclusions.

Dr Hugues Chenet(opens in new tab/window), honorary Senior Research Associate at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources(opens in new tab/window) and Scientific Collaborator at the Chair of Stress Test, hosted by the Ecole Polytechnique de Paris(opens in new tab/window), highlights the necessity and challenge of considering a variety of audiences when communicating contemporary research:

I think the question of being understandable by a broader public is primarily a question of ‘translation layers.’ Whatever the complexity or abstraction of a research work, a dedicated effort should be given to make the outcome multi-layered. From the one-line simple explanation for kids (really — they’re the next researchers or users of our research!) to the very specific details only a handful of peers will be interested in. The middle layer for the broader public and media is sometimes what will get more traction, especially on issues widely shared such as climate change. This can be frustrating, as the specificity and ‘value added’ by the research may be missed or hidden.

Multi-layered communication is a new demand on researchers and a skill that doesn’t always come naturally. Julia Bingler(opens in new tab/window), a doctoral researcher at ETH Zurich(opens in new tab/window), shares her advice for those wanting to produce quality research with impact in the post-pandemic world:

Listen to the broader public to understand which topics are pressing and unsolved. If you identify a question that is relevant to the general audience, people will listen to what you say later on about the results. Always ask yourself the “so what?” question, not only at the very end of a paper when you conclude with the implications. What helped me a lot was working for two years outside academia before I started with my PhD. In retrospect, I realized that this enabled me to understand two communities and translate what I did in research to people working on completely different daily tasks.

What remains unclear is the lasting impact increased public attention will have on how researchers conduct and communicate their research. Whatever its eventual influence, Elsevier wants to work with researchers to help them in this changing landscape and to identify potential solutions that can support the research community in a way that ultimately improves confidence in research. To this end, over the past year we have been working in partnership with leading organisations dedicated to advancing research and science to initiate a global dialogue about how confidence in research has been affected by the pandemic and to identify practical solutions that can support researchers.

A key part of this has been Economist Impact’s Confidence in Research: researchers in the spotlight study, supported by Elsevier, which surveyed more than 3,000 researchers globally, across different career stages and academic disciplines, to understand their experiences, their own confidence in the research process, and what skills, support or incentive structures they need in this increasingly complex and public-facing environment.

In collaboration with Economist Impact, Sense about Science(opens in new tab/window) and our regional convening partners (see below), Elsevier convened a series of roundtables, attended by leaders from academic and science institutions, established as well as early career researchers in China, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.

Throughout, we sought the guidance of a Global Advisory Panel [link] convened by Economist Impact, and a Global Expert Panel, brought together by Elsevier, of representatives from across the research ecosystem [link], including diverse geographies, backgrounds, types of institutions, NGOs, think tanks, policy-making organizations and editors. These experts interrogated the findings of the survey and, crucially, contributed views on where action and intervention are most needed to help researchers. These extensive inputs, insights and recommendations have been written by Economist Impact in the final report, published on 8 November 2022.

We believe this report can be a helpful stimulus as all stakeholders in research come together to turn recommendations into action. Ensuring that quality research can accelerate progress for society is at the heart of what we do at Elsevier, and we are committed to supporting the research community to tackle these challenges.

Listen to Confidence in Research in Spotify(opens in new tab/window)