News & Comment

Filter By:

  • Historical linguistics is the study of language change and stability, of the history of individual languages, and of the relatedness between languages. In spite of numerous acknowledgements, the adoption of quantitative methods in historical linguistics is still far from being mainstream and it falls below the level of other branches of linguistics. This comment considers the adoption of quantitative methods in recent historical linguistics research, and compares a study on 2012 publications with a similar study conducted seven years later. This comment argues for the advantages of a wider adoption of quantitative methods among historical linguists, and considers various reasons for the relatively slow progress in this direction. It also clarifies when quantitative methods are not the preferred route.

    • Barbara McGillivray
    • Gard B. Jenset
    Comment Open Access
  • Self-driving, ‘autonomous’ vehicles (AVs) promise to change the world in profound ways. The suggested benefits include safety, efficiency and accessibility. However, researchers and others have been quick to raise questions about wider implications for mobility and urban environments and responsible development of the technology. In a discussion that has been dominated by science, engineering and narrow questions of ethics, there is a need to draw attention to the old questions of politics: Who wins? Who loses? Who decides? Who pays? AVs will not be defined by their supposed autonomy; they will be defined by a set of social relationships. The special collection that this paper accompanies brings together research from a range of disciplines to explore the politics of autonomous vehicles and provide a foundation for ongoing investigation.

    • Jack Stilgoe
    • Miloš Mladenović
    Comment Open Access
  • Pandemics affect every aspect of life, and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is no exception. The impact of COVID-19 might be even greater in medical education, which involves close contact with patients. This comment reviews current trends in medical education in response to COVID-19, especially in the pre-clerkship curriculum, and discusses opportunities and challenges in medical education in the post-pandemic era. COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of online teaching and learning and is expected to boost innovation in medical education. First, blended learning, which is a mix of online and offline learning intended to incorporate the best of both worlds, is expected to become more widespread. Second, more novel approaches to learning that involve student-led initiatives likely become popular mediated by various technologies. Third, there will be more use of online learning resources and assessments. As online learning is expected to play a prominent role in the post-COVID-19 era, such transitions offer both opportunities and challenges. These challenges include faculty development on online teaching skills, creation and sharing of online resources, and effective design and implementation of online assessments. This comment calls for institutional support and collaborations for faculty development and for the development and sharing of learning resources, more models and guidelines for effective technology integration, and use of the virtual learning environment to promote student-centered learning to embrace the challenges as opportunities to improve medical education in the post-COVID era.

    • Kyong-Jee Kim
    Comment Open Access
  • Natural resource management agencies in the United States have a legal responsibility to represent Indigenous Peoples and federally recognized Tribes in environmental stewardship. This comment article is a call to action that argues for genuine representation of Tribes and other Indigenous Peoples through adherence to existing, formal consultation policies and coproduction of knowledge. Agencies must recognize and respect the differences between public involvement and government-to-government consultation with federally-recognized Tribes. Sovereign tribal nations are not the public and have a unique relationship with federal agencies based in the federal trust responsibility. Coproduction of knowledge is an emerging enterprise that has potential for meaningfully engaging and genuinely and equitably representing Indigenous Peoples and Tribes and should be codeveloped and implemented as policy. Agencies should build capacity to properly represent tribal nations in decisions. Agency employees and Indigenous Peoples must spend more time together to increase cultural awareness and build meaningful relationships to facilitate genuine consultation and coproduction of knowledge.

    • Jeffrey J. Brooks
    Comment Open Access
  • The purpose of this comment is to call for more critical engagement with the potential and practice for biogas investment on the African continent. Over the past two decades, immense amounts of money have been spent by African governments, private individuals, and most conspicuously, international aid agencies and donors, on countless biogas projects in every country on the continent. Yet, despite the investments, biogas in African countries has not taken off, and the continent is strewn with the ruins of hundreds of failed and abandoned biogas projects. Moreover, scholarly literature contains little feedback about what actually happens on the ground. Drawing on this critical reading of the literature, including its blindspots on project outcomes and failures, and drawing on the authors’ own extensive experience with small-scale biogas projects in Malawi and South Africa, this comment article calls for more scholarly critical reflection on why a biogas revolution, that has been perennially over the horizon, has yet to arrive while centring the role of social scientists to engage with biogas owners and operators to bridge the socio-technical divide from potential to practice.

    • Marc Kalina
    • Jonathan Òlal Ogwang
    • Elizabeth Tilley
    Comment Open Access
  • Composed of an image and short caption, internet memes visually depict an element of a culture or behavioural system, in a humorous way that contextually relates to a particular demographic. Typically, they are rapidly shared, with many variations of the original. Online interaction with internet memes has become a crucial psychosocial aspect of digital culture, which have recently become well established in popular media by consistently maintaining culturally topical and socially salient references. Increasingly, many pages are dedicated to sharing memes related to the symptom experience of specific psychiatric disorders. Despite their popularity, the individual motivation for the observation and sharing of mental health memes remains poorly understood. While several psychiatrists and media outlets perceive internet memes related to mental health difficulties to be associated with adverse consequences, the empirical evidence fails to support this notion. Among individuals experiencing psychiatric difficulties, we explore whether interacting with mental health memes involves adverse consequences, or rather serve as a beneficial coping mechanism. Here, evaluation of the literature indicates that most psychiatrically vulnerable individuals report positive experiences when engaging with such memes. More specifically, they are perceived to facilitate a humorous take on a negative experience and situation, and the perception of peer-support through social bonds with others experiencing similar symptoms. While mental health memes typically depict dark and negative humour, their proximal nature to those experiencing psychiatric symptoms may be considered contextually positive. As such, to conclude, we discuss the role of contextual humour in facilitating cognitive reappraisal of negative thoughts and experiences. Furthermore, we set an agenda to address key methodological limitations of existing work while providing suggestions for future research.

    • Umair Akram
    • Jennifer Drabble
    Comment Open Access
  • Imagining, first, and then implementing an effective shift toward a new, green, and sustainable economic paradigm that safeguards the commons is required if humanity wants to survive and prosper. This commentary proposes a mission statement for a new transdisciplinary and long-run research endeavor to redefine homo economicus by letting him wear a new mask (the Latin meaning of persona). It also introduces a provocative definition of “Vegetable Economics,” a new economic paradigm that takes inspiration from plants to design economic institutions.

    • Valentina Rotondi
    • Luigino Bruni
    • Paolo Santori
    Comment Open Access
  • STEM education has been extensively recognized by the Chinese government and the public nationally. However, there is no consistent terminology for naming STEM education in China, which leads to confusion about the use of STEM label in practice. Meanwhile, STEM-related evaluation has not received sufficient consideration by the Chinese government except for the Ministry of Education. In addition, macro-regulation and policy support at the national level in STEM education are limited, especially for vulnerable groups, contrasting with the United States. In order to fully release the enormous potential in developing science and technology, four approaches to reforming China’s STEM-related actions are discussed: (1) China should develop a consensus terminology based on national conditions as well as international communication. (2) China’s K-12 education should move forward along with four levels of STEM education and gradually reach the corresponding thinking degrees. (3) A multi-party collaborative service mechanism should be established. (4) It is critical to establish a school culture and environment that supports the integrated implementation of STEM-related education, including targeted instruction and training for vulnerable populations. In the future, a systematic top-level design is expected to promote the development of Chinese STEM education.

    • Baichang Zhong
    • Xiaofan Liu
    • Fulai Wang
    Comment Open Access
  • Meaningful collaborations between archaeologists and descendant communities and nations is a necessary component of archaeological practice in the 2020s and beyond. While calls for decolonising the social sciences and humanities have become a common refrain, practical methodologies for supplanting settler-colonial research practice have been less apparent. We detail how the development of independent radiocarbon-based chronologies in archaeology is one such substantive path forward. As a joint group of Indigenous and Euro-American and Euro-Canadian researchers, we outline how collaborative research agendas that privilege the knowledge and interests of descendant communities and include independent chronology building can be developed and achieved, securing mutual benefit and distributing authority in the construction of archaeologically derived Indigenous histories.

    • Jennifer Birch
    • Turner W. Hunt
    • Victor D. Thompson
    Comment Open Access
  • Ecosystem accounting has been advocated as a potential ‘game changer’ for managing the environment and economy and was recently standardised by the United Nations (UN) in the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA-EA). However, Indigenous Peoples, their lands, values, and knowledge have not been explicitly included in the SEEA-EA. With more than 40% of global land under some form of Indigenous management or tenure, this omission must be addressed if Indigenous Peoples are to use the SEEA-EA; and if the values and aspirations of Indigenous Peoples are to be reflected in broader environmental and economic management and policy. We outline how Indigenous perspectives differ from those currently recognised in SEEA-EA. A key difference is that Indigenous Peoples view themselves as part of ecosystems rather than distinct from them, and this relationship is two-way, not one-way, as presented in the SEEA-EA. Reconciling these perspectives is possible but will require collaborative engagement with Indigenous Peoples guided by the principles of free, prior, and informed consent. To achieve a reconciliation, we call for two actions: (1) including recognition of Indigenous values as a new item on the SEEA-EA research agenda, and; (2) that Indigenous Peoples be part of the UN processes governing the development of the SEEA-EA.

    • Anna Normyle
    • Michael Vardon
    • Bruce Doran
    Comment Open Access
  • Numerous urban models are emerging in response to climate urgencies, as pointed out in COP26, resulting in a call for urgent and deep decarbonization policies. One emerging model, responsive to the need for more sustainable urban outcomes, is that of the ‘15-Minute City’. The quest for more sustainable and smarter cities is urgent, as cities contribute more than 60% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and thus demands a redefinition of some contemporary urban policies, especially around mobility. The ‘15-Minute City’ is an emerging concept, currently in application in major European Cities, such as Paris and Barcelona, and quickly gaining popularity as a potent solution for encouraging urban sustainability transitions. As the model approaches urban planning via humane socio-economic dimensions, it can be further developed to benefit urban communities, globally in an equitable fashion. In doing so, the model can be crafted to respond to the challenges of the other geographies, including those of the Global South, specifically relating to urban infrastructural financing. This approach recognizes the need for models that can contribute to deep decarbonization agendas, while being contextually responsive with sound financial mechanisms—including both Public and Private parties. In this paper, we argue that the ’15-Minute City’ concept can be poised as a potent solution to re-structure cities for increased sustainability, inclusivity, and economic equity, through locally implemented fiscal mechanisms.

    • Zaheer Allam
    • Simon Elias Bibri
    • Carlos Moreno
    Comment Open Access
  • The current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has impactśed all forms of global international engagement, inclusive of long-standing and recently formed research teams. Most were formed to be efficient within budget, time, and personnel limits, without building an ability to recover from crises, i.e. inherent resilience. Diversity and Inclusiveness, a requirement for resilient ecological systems, has only been discussed in a normative sense for teams of humans, including research teams. Studying different diversity configurations of international research teams will allow resilience-based tools and metrics to inform improved team design, implementation, and recovery to adverse events.

    • Igor Linkov
    • Benjamin Trump
    • Greg Kiker
    Comment Open Access
  • For decades, researchers, knowledge brokers and policymakers have been working to increase the use of evidence in policymaking. This has spanned a wide range of approaches, from developments in evidence generation, to efforts to increase demand amongst decision-makers, and everything in between. Policymakers are central in this process, and we have well documented examples of how the policy system in some countries is increasingly embedding evidence into routine decision-making processes. These structural shifts are the holy grail of those who work to support the use of evidence, achieving degrees of ‘ownership’ and ‘institutionalisation’ of evidence-informed policy within governments. However, if one examines evidence generation, you see a lack of equivalent structural developments in the system for evidence generation, in particular research evidence. Academics may be increasingly likely to disseminate their research effectively. Funders may be demanding greater policy impact from research. Nevertheless, when looking at the core investment by countries for knowledge production (referred to as National Systems for Innovation in some contexts), several agencies constituting these systems – from science councils, universities, advisory bodies, funders and innovation centers – continue to incentivize established and new academics to use individualised motives to influence collective decisions and effect changes on broader, complex societal challenges. There is a case to be made that the evidence generation system needs reform if it is to lead to the desired transformation, and that a transformed evidence system needs to be better geared to interact with the policy-practice processes and systems which ultimately influence society.

    • Ruth Stewart
    • Harsha Dayal
    • Carina van Rooyen
    Comment Open Access
  • In this article, and the topical collection accompanying it, we aim to challenge so-called knowledge translation (hereinafter KT) in medicine and healthcare. The abbreviation ‘KT’ refers to a variety of scientific practices and research activities, bound together by the common goal of ‘bridging the gap’ between science in laboratories and clinical application, and, more generally, putting research-based knowledge into policy and practical care. Our objective, then, is to challenge KT by working through and with the convergence and divergences between different translational epistemologies. As KT has had a massive impact on practical healthcare, global health, and knowledge policy, as well as governance relating to sustainability, a critical examination of KT is of huge academic and societal significance. The point of departure for the contributors to this collection is the observation that KT is based upon a reductive understanding of translation and knowledge transmission. Standard models of KT take translation and knowledge transmission as a phenomenon for granted, and accordingly downplay the complexity of translation as an entangled material, textual and cultural process, which inevitably affects the ‘original scientific message’. By contrasting KT with historical, cultural, and epistemic differences from its scientific ‘prehistory’, and by analysing it with reference to broader humanistic and material views of translation, we aim to develop concepts of medical translation that can cope with contemporary epistemic and cultural differences.

    • John Ødemark
    • Eivind Engebretsen
    Comment Open Access
  • The Covid-19 pandemic—and its social and economic fallout—has thrust social and health-related inequalities into the spotlight. The pandemic, and our response to it, has induced new inequalities both within and between nations. However, now that highly efficacious vaccines are available, one might reasonably presume that we have in our hands the tools to address pandemic-associated inequalities. Nevertheless, two prominent social science theories, fundamental cause theory and diffusion of innovation theory suggest otherwise. Together, these theories predict that better resourced individuals and countries will jockey to harness the greatest vaccine benefit for themselves, leaving large populations of disadvantaged people unprotected. While many other life-saving prevention measures have been distributed unequally in ways these theories would predict, the COVID-19 vaccines represent a different kind of case. As the disease is so highly infectious and because mutations lead to new variants so rapidly, any inequality-generating process that leaves disadvantaged individuals and countries behind acts to put everyone—rich and poor—at risk. It is time that we ensure the equitable distribution of this life-saving benefit. As the fundamental cause and diffusion of innovation theories help illuminate processes that regularly produce inequities, we turn to them to reason about the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. Specifically, employ them to suggest countermoves that may be necessary to avoid an irrational and inequitable vaccine rollout that ends up unfavorably affecting all people.

    • Håvard Thorsen Rydland
    • Joseph Friedman
    • Terje Andreas Eikemo
    Comment Open Access
  • The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has caused an overload of scientific information in the media, sometimes including misinformation or the dissemination of false content. This so-called infodemic, at a low intensity level, is also manifested in the spread of scientific and medical illustrations of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Since the beginning of the pandemic, images of other long-known viruses, sometimes imaginary reconstructions, or viruses that cause diseases in other, non-human species have been attributed to SARS-CoV-2. In a certain way, one can thus speak of a case of an imagedemic based on an alteration of the rigour and truth of informative illustrations in the media. Images that illustrate informative data have an influence on the emotional perception of viewers and the formation of attitudes and behaviours in the face of the current or future pandemics. So, image disinformation should be avoided, making it desirable that journalists confirm the validity of scientific images with the same rigour that they apply to any other type of image, instead of working with fake, made-up images from photo stock services. At a time when scientific illustration has great didactic power, high-quality information must be illustrated using images that are as accurate and real as possible, as for any other news topic. It is fundamental that informative illustrations about COVID-19 used in the media are scientifically rigorous.

    • Celia Andreu-Sánchez
    • Miguel Ángel Martín-Pascual
    Comment Open Access
  • Scientific collaborations among nations to address common problems and to build international partnerships as part of science diplomacy is a well-established notion. The international flow of people and ideas has played an important role in the advancement of the ‘Sciences’ and the current pandemic scenario has drawn attention towards the genuine need for a stronger role of science diplomacy, science advice and science communication. In dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, visible interactions across science, policy, science communication to the public and diplomacy worldwide have promptly emerged. These interactions have benefited primarily the disciplines of knowledge that are directly informing the pandemic response, while other scientific fields have been relegated. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on scientists of all disciplines and from all world regions are discussed here, with a focus on early-career researchers (ECRs), as a vulnerable population in the research system. Young academies and ECR-driven organisations could suggest ECR-powered solutions and actions that could have the potential to mitigate these effects on ECRs working on disciplines not related to the pandemic response. In relation with governments and other scientific organisations, they can have an impact on strengthening and creating fairer scientific systems for ECRs at the national, regional, and global level.

    • Sandra López-Vergès
    • Bernardo Urbani
    • Paulina Carmona-Mora
    Comment Open Access
  • Academic CVs are ubiquitous and play an integral role in the assessment of researchers. They define and portray what activities and achievements are considered important in the scientific system. Developing their content and structure beyond the traditional, publication-focused CV has the potential to make research careers more diverse and their assessment fairer and more transparent. This comment presents ten ways to further develop the content and structure of academic CVs. The recommendations are inspired by a workshop of the CV Harmonization Group (H-Group), a joint initiative between researchers on research, academic data infrastructure organizations, and representatives from >15 funding organizations. The proposed improvements aim at inspiring development and innovation in academic CVs for funding agencies and hiring committees.

    • Michaela Strinzel
    • Josh Brown
    • Michael Hill
    Comment Open Access