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What do science fiction authors say about future research environments?

What do we need and where should we go from here? Academics who are also successful Sci-Fi authors were interviewed as part of the EOSC initiative. Read the recently published series on future research environments.

Science fiction scene with city silhouette, sky, stars

Image: Thomas Budach, Pixabay

As partner of the project consortium EOSCSecretariat, opens an external URL in a new window, TU Wien is responsible for Researcher Engagement. This task comprised the organization of workshops, opens an external URL in a new window, consultations, opens an external URL in a new window and an Exploration Series consisting of interviews with top-level researchers, opens an external URL in a new window and academics who are also successful Sci-Fi authors. The key objectives were to collect input from stakeholders, to reach out to researchers and their communities via multipliers and testimonials as well as to cover various scientific domains, all while considering a variety of perspectives, geographic spread and gender balance.

In the context of the Exploration Series with Sci-Fi authors, the preparatory work and discussion phases started in summer 2020. Six authors that have various scientific backgrounds were interviewed: Computer Science, Economics, Biology, Intellectual History, Psychology, and Computer Engineering. In terms of geographical spread, Canada, China, Europe and the U.S. were covered. The interviews are published in sequence, one per month, starting with January 2021, both on Zenodo, opens an external URL in a new window and as blog entries on the EOSCSecretariat Website, opens an external URL in a new window. The report, opens an external URL in a new window on the discussions with Sci-Fi authors along with 2-page key takeaway messages, opens an external URL in a new window were recently published.

Topics covered during the discussions include competition and collaboration, the re-establishment of trust in technologies, research practices and positions of power, monopolies and oligopolies as well as strategies to support pluralism within research systems, education and science communication. The report concludes with a summary of crucial discussion points, suggested services and potential solutions.

Competition and Collaboration

Discussions surrounding Competition and Collaboration focused on the need to collaborate to tackle global, societal and interdisciplinary challenges. In many cases, however, too strong an emphasis on competition risks to ruin accomplishments that could be achieved through genuine collaboration. Reasons for this include in-fighting for top-positions in order to get access to scarce resources. Developing strategies to prove research systems against such exploitation and to support research environments in which e.g. funding is less constrained may well help to shift the focus from competition back to collaboration.

Issues of Trust

Societies are currently facing what appears to be a collapse in trust in (information) technologies, research practices and positions of power, which in return might hamper societies’ ability to base decisions on scientific results simply because of a lack of consensus about whether they are trustworthy. Suggested strategies to restore trust include, for example, accompanying the development of technologies with impact assessment, the establishment of regulations to control the development of technologies and ways of dealing with structural problems in research such as the not publishing negative research results, statistical malpractice and the difficulty of reproducing research results.

Monopolies and Oligopolies

Monopolies and Oligopolies as a starting point-for-debate opened up issues such as the reduction of pluralism within research systems. When discussing the future of research, market forces should therefore be addressed, strategies to disempower monopolies should be developed and implemented and e.g. the dominance of scientific publishing houses needs to be taken under consideration. Acts of manipulation as part of future systems can contribute to pluralistic structures by constantly resetting the conditions to succeed within market economies, research systems and infrastructures.

Education and Science Communication

Focusing on Education and Science Communication led to the discussion of themes such as ensuring quality education for all and establishing a dialogue between the broader public and the world of science. This includes the introduction of data literacy, digital literacy and education around privacy concepts into school curricula and changing ways of science communication. First, researchers and research institutions need to take responsibility for science communication. Second, ways of communicating science from the very technical and difficult to grasp down to a level where the average person is able to understand it need to be developed.

Inquired: What science fiction authors say

Workshop report and key takeaway messages

EOSC contact at TU Wien

TU Wien is partner in the H2020 project,, opens an external URL in a new window delivering 360° support to the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) Governance. Specifically, it addresses the need for the set-up of an operational framework supporting the overall Governance of the EOSC. has received funding from the European Union's Horizon Programme call H2020-INFRAEOSC-05-2018-2019, Grant Agreement number 831644.