Acad. Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon guest at UP
On Friday, 16 July 2021, the University of Primorska hosted the President of the European Research Council (ERC), Acad. Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, whose visit in Slovenia is part of a wider event dedicated to science and research in the frame of the Slovenian presidency of the EU Council. The panel discussions with Prof. Bourguignon about research in Europe in view of pandemic was attended by UP leadership, and by representatives of other Slovenian scientific research institutions, among them Prof. Zdravko Kačič, Rector of the University of Maribor, Prof. Mladen Franko, Vice-Rector for Education at the University of Nova Gorica, Prof. dr. Roman Jerala, from the National Institute of Chemistry, Dr. Tomaž Boh, Director General of the Directorate for Science at the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports (MIZŠ), Dr. Andreja Umek Venturini, ERC contact at MIZŠ, and representatives of UP members and InnoRenew CoE Research Institute.
The first part of the discussion, led by Prof. Tomaž Pisanski, was focused on excellence in science and on different criteria for evaluating the quality of scientific research, where individual scientific fields shall not be compared with each other. Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon invited researchers to be ambitious and dare to take risks, to apply and realize new ideas. »Don’t be conservative,« he said.
Regarding the current challenges in the field of research, our guest pointed out the fact that the pandemic obviously affected scientists as well, as for many, access to laboratories and equipment was very limited and remote work was much more time consuming. As another important issue, he stressed the relationship between science and politics. »During the pandemic, politicians had to make many decisions based on data they received from scientists. In some cases, however, the researchers were not sure what the right solution was, as science could only work on the basis of facts that were not known in this case.« Prof. Bourguignon also highlighted the great success of COVID-19 vaccine, which no one expected. »The vaccine is a remarkable achievement, and people have accepted this success as something normal and simple, as they expect solutions to emerge overnight, even though it is a work that last many years. Therefore, science must constantly explain that it is a remarkable achievement and quick solutions cannot be expected, because research work is complex.« Politics should also include science in its decisions: »What makes science successful is the use of tested scientific methods. During the pandemic, this was a big challenge, as people needed a ‘next day’ solution, which of course was not possible. It is therefore necessary to explain to the public that real science requires time, data, and organization. Without all this, there is no science. In crisis, scientists have to be even more patient, because one cannot ignore strict verification methods and facts. However, it is not easy to explain all this to the public, especially in times when it is common to be impatient.«
Prof. Bourguignon commented also the vaccination campaign. »I think there is no other option than vaccination because we do not yet have a cure for COVID-19. Scientists should be actively involved in the vaccination campaign, as it needs to be explained that the vaccine is only effective if enough people are vaccinated. If you get vaccinated, you protect yourself and others as well. Everyone is part of the solution.«
According to UP Rector Prof. Klavdija Kutnar, the panel discussion opened many interesting and current topics. »It is essential that, as scientific community, we are committed to promoting science and innovation in society. A conference on the future of Europe is currently taking place within the EU, where science and innovation are not among the priority topics. Scientists need to make Europe aware that investing in science and innovation is crucial for the further development of our society,« said Dr. Kutnar. »We see today's event as an extension of the 8th European Congress of Mathematics, which took place in June in Portorož. Prof. Bourguignon was guest of an interview in which he presented his views on science and mathematics. Unfortunately, the event took place remotely and therefore we are very happy to have him in person today.« During the weekend, researchers and students had the chance to meet Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon. »It is extremely important to give our students and young researchers the chance to meet such eminent personalities,« concluded UP Rector.