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Carlos Moedas

Carlos Moedas: Diversity is required for excellence

European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation says that science advances only through partnerships and that Big Data is an essential part of the new game

Entrevista_03 ok_Carlos MoedasLÉO RAMOSIn 2014, Portuguese civil engineer Carlos Moedas, 45, was appointed European Union Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, becoming responsible for Horizon 2020, the continent’s main scientific program. With a budget of €80 billion for the 2014-2020 period, Horizon 2020 is investing in basic science, research of interest to companies and the solution of society’s great challenges, through grants and projects developed by researchers from the EU’s 28 member states, and also attracts funding from countries and from the private sector. The program is open to international partners, such as consortia and researchers interested in collaborating with Europeans.

On November 17, 2015, Moedas was in Brazil and gave a talk at the FAPESP auditorium on the strategies of the European Union and Horizon 2020. These include an increase in the number of collaborations with scientists from other countries, a change in the way research is done given the supply of large amounts of information, the importance of developing a regulatory environment that encourages innovation, and the need to have standards to promote integrity in a scientific environment undergoing transformation. He praised FAPESP’s initiative to announce and provide funds, through projects, to researchers in São Paulo who want to collaborate with colleagues in Europe. “It is the first parallel funding system, which ensures that Brazil will participate in Horizon 2020 to a greater extent.” I hope it serves as an inspiration for other Brazilian states,” he said. In March 2015, FAPESP established a cooperation agreement with the EU for Horizon 2020 through which researchers linked to universities and research institutions in the state of São Paulo can use support mechanisms provided by the Foundation to fund their participation in proposals associated with the program, but within the time frame of the European program.

Shortly before Moedas’ talk, FAPESP’s Scientific Director, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, also announced a call for proposals, published by the European Commission and the Foundation, together with the National Council of State Funding Agencies (CONFAP) and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI), with the objective of supporting international collaborations in second-generation biofuel research. “We have studied all types of renewable energy and would be very happy to work together with Brazil,” said the Commissioner.

Son of a newspaper owner with communist tendencies and a teacher, Carlos Moedas spent his childhood and adolescence in Beja, in the Alentejo region. He graduated with a degree in engineering from the Lisbon Technical Institute and, in the 1990s, worked in project management for a French group. After completing an MBA at Harvard Business School in 2000, he worked in mergers and acquisitions at the investment bank Goldman Sachs in London. He returned to Portugal in 2004 and founded his own investment company. In 2010, he entered politics and became an economic advisor for the Social Democratic Party. The following year he was elected to the Portuguese Parliament, but soon became Assistant Secretary of State to the Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coelho. In 2014, he was nominated by the Portuguese government to the European Commission and became the Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation. Commissioner Moedas is married to a university professor and has three children.

Shortly after the talk in the FAPESP auditorium, in which he proffered good-natured responses to questions from the audience and learned, laughingly, the meaning of the word “xará” (someone with the same first name), the European commissioner made time to grant Pesquisa FAPESP the following interview.

Civil Engineering
Lisbon Technical Institute (undergraduate); Harvard Business School (MBA)
European Commission

What are your expectations in relation to partnerships between researchers in Brazil and the European Union through the Horizon 2020 program?
The European strategy defines open science, open innovation and opening to the world as essential to doing better science. We do not believe that Europe can do excellent science by itself. Alone, Europe will not do it. Thus our projects are open to the world. For example, anyone in the world can apply for a grant from the European Research Council, which is the largest grant program in the world for basic science. Science is related to excellence. And excellence can only be found in diversity and in our ability to look at the world as a whole and attempt to find the best researchers. We know that there are great scientists in Brazil and that they can benefit by working with us, just like we can benefit by working with them. It is a relationship between equals, a two-way relationship. That is why we signed agreements with FAPESP. A young researcher who has the opportunity to work on a team in Europe can advance her career. This can transform her. Similarly, a European coming to work in Brazil on biofuels can advance his career because Brazil is further ahead in this field, especially in terms of experience with first-generation ethanol. The idea is to develop this collaboration. I strongly believe that, today, no one can innovate or do science in just one country or in just one field. More than 150 grant holders in the [European Union’s] Marie Curie program are Brazilian. Three Europe Research Council grant holders are Brazilian. But we can do a lot more.

What is the European Union’s interest in second generation ethanol research? Europe has invested in renewable energy, but there is resistance to the first-generation ethanol produced by Brazil because of the impact it allegedly has on food production.
When we went from the second to the third generation of ethanol, we were seeking other alternatives. This is important for Brazil because it also wants to diversify. The energy problem has to be solved via diversification of sources. In fact, I would say it depends on energy efficiency, which is basically unconsumed energy. That is how we can become more efficient, and then we have to diversify renewable, non-fossil sources. Most non-fossil sources are still very expensive. So most of the research that we do has this goal, to some extent, which is how we can obtain or reduce the price of technologies which are still very recent. For biofuels, for example, we were able to list a set of goals for cooperation between Brazil and Europe, but we would like to do much more. In other words, that was just a first step, a logical first step. We will see a lot more of renewable energy. We are studying all types of renewable energy and we would be very pleased to do this with Brazil, which is engaged in this area.

What do you think of FAPESP’s initiative to announce and offer resources, through projects, to researchers in São Paulo who want to collaborate with colleagues in Europe?
It is very good. We really want Brazilian researchers to participate more in Horizon 2020. And this is why it is very good to have an organization as extraordinary as FAPESP, which can look at our calls for proposals and finance Brazilian researchers so that they can participate in them. I think Brazil was very highly regarded in Europe for having taken another step along the path of excellence. Today, Horizon 2020 is considered a mark of excellence. This is because the projects that make it through the filter and receive funding are those in which all scientists around the world would like to participate. And would even do so without funding, if necessary, because the groups are very strong. In this respect, this will allow many researchers from São Paulo to participate in European projects. I think that this is very important for the career of a researcher. We did a study on researchers who had the opportunity to work in other countries. They are almost 20% more productive in terms of publication of articles compared to those who never worked abroad. So, mobility is important.

Is basic research being done through Horizon 2020? Of the total invested by the program, what portion is in basic research?
A third goes to basic research. The investment in basic research is through what we think is one of the best instruments in the world, the European Research Council, which has an important philosophy. It is a bottom-up, not top-down philosophy.   The calls for proposals for the program provide no direction for researchers. The scientists themselves tell us what they want to do. Obviously, then there is a peer review system and the best projects are chosen. But we do not impose topics.

Research in biofuels in the European Union: seeking cheaper non-fossil energy sources

Chamussy Laurent / Sipa Press / EuropeanResearch in biofuels in the European Union: seeking cheaper non-fossil energy sourcesChamussy Laurent / Sipa Press / European

Without mandating, as you stressed in your presentation at FAPESP?
Exactly. There are two very important issues in science policy. One is that science policy should not let politicians make scientific decisions. That is, politicians should not choose projects. FAPESP is a very good example of this path in its use of peer review. This is the first step in quality science. And when we look at this quality science and think about its features, what is the next step? That it be bottom-up and not top-down. That nothing should be mandated, because politicians are not scientists, they cannot choose, they cannot provide this type of guidance. I think that we will have more and more policies that are bottom-up and not top-down.

And the other two thirds of Horizon 2020 funding? What type of research is it for?
One third goes to policies for industry and small and mid-sized companies. And the other third goes to what are called societal challenges. The idea is to say that, for us to solve today’s challenges, we need researchers from more than one discipline. We just launched what we call an inducement prize, an award for those who innovate in the field of aging, one of society’s challenges. Is this a medical issue? A chemistry problem? No, it is a mixture: sociological, anthropological and medical. The point is to bring together all disciplines to solve the problem, it is how we can get these people to talk to each other.

In a recent talk, you spoke of Europe’s difficulty in transforming the knowledge it produces into innovation, and how this knowledge ends up being appropriated and developed by countries in other regions. How do you deal with this problem?
It turns out that, in the end, basic science is only one ingredient. At the same time, innovation depends on more than investment in innovation. It depends on a number of regulatory ecosystem conditions. This has to do with public policies that encourage the private investor’s confidence—or don’t. What are the labor laws? What is the justice system like? How can we act without fear of the future? The concept of open innovation is also related to this, which is how we view regulation. If you regulate too much, you do not provide incentives for the development of new industries or new products. The idea is to have more intelligent regulation, structural reforms that increase labor market flexibility and justice system agility. For example, a simple reform: if a country develops a company liquidation system that makes it easy to close one company and open another, we are providing enormous incentives for innovation. And it is not just an innovation measure. It is a legal measure. That is, it is OK to fail. And it won’t take 10 years to liquidate the company because there is so much red tape. This has to do with open innovation, which seeks to involve more actors in the innovation process, from researchers and entrepreneurs, to users of innovation, society at large and governments. We need this in order to capitalize on the results of European research and innovation.

You addressed the concept of open science, in which researchers collaborate intensely, taking advantage of the potential of digital resources. And one of your initiatives as Commissioner of Research, Science and Innovation is to develop a cloud to store research data and facilitate collaboration between researchers. How will this work?
This is an idea that we are working on: the European Science Cloud.  It is not precisely related to being European, but rather to how to develop technologies for building a cloud in which scientists can, on the one hand, use this cloud, but also receive services. It is more or less a European reflection on how we can have a European cloud for science, with standards for management and quality of scientific data. We want to build a European cloud so that researchers will have a safe space, a place in which they can take advantage of data mining services, for example. We will publish a tender on this subject.

FAPESP Scientific Director, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, and Commissioner Carlos Moedas

LÉO RAMOSFAPESP Scientific Director, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, and Commissioner Carlos MoedasLÉO RAMOS

Another initiative in management is to develop a European best scientific practices code. What are the ambitions of the European scientific integrity code?
We are developing a code that will be applied to all researchers who participate in Horizon 2020. I hope that other European institutions can take advantage of the code so that it will become truly European. Since Horizon 2020 represents a large portion of investments for European researchers, we are saying that those who want to participate in the program will have to abide by integrity rules. And for this we really need a code. In the world of open science, in a world in which data is accessible, we need to take even greater care with integrity, since there are fewer filters. We need to have greater individual responsibility. And this individual responsibility can begin with a code, but then it passes to the person. And, of course, to the institution. This is a point we are discussing in Europe. Often the institution says that the researcher is responsible for his own integrity. And we think that the institution is also responsible for the researcher’s integrity. This needs to be emphasized. We should have this code within four or five months. Science of the future is grounded in the quality and quantity of the data available. Big Data will be an essential part of this new game. We defined an aggressive policy in Europe for open access and scientific integrity because we want integrity in order to be open.

You referred to four major themes, namely food security, clean water, energy and public health, which will be impacted in the coming years. What change is coming?
It is the theme of merging the physical world with the digital world. Fusion of the digital and the physical will completely transform these four fields. Medicine of the future will not only pass through medical science, but also through the analysis of large volumes of information, known as Big Data. In other words, the physician will no longer be able to find solutions by just using his knowledge and studying medicine. Because Big Data, or data analytics, will be able to detect and provide answers in a way the physician cannot, because he does not have all the data. In this respect, medicine will undergo a huge change. If we are able to collect data that follow a patient from birth until death, we will, through a meta-analysis of data, be able to arrive at conclusions and prevent many diseases. We will be able to treat diseases when they are not yet visible through normal tests. In the case of sanitation, today some projects are placing sensors in waste water. This will allow real-time monitoring of several public health issues. Basically, we are taking an industry whose role was simply to clean water or sewage, and transforming it into something important for medicine, for example by immediately detecting a virus that reaches a city.

Do you think this will change the way we do research?
I think this changes everything, because a researcher can never do research alone. He will have to be open to other scientific fields and to working with other researchers. The Big Data scientists, a researcher working with data management, will have an increasingly important role on research teams. Everything is related to the ability to analyze data. I think that we are going to go from what is now called the Internet of things to the era of intelligent things. How do machines talk to each other? How do they make decisions based on this information? The cloud will be a key part of this new environment.

You also mentioned the question of open access to scientific papers. How can we reconcile open access with the current business model of scientific journal publishers?
When we move from a paradigm in which the reader pays to one in which those publishing pay—because someone has to pay—we must question what this service is. We do not mean that publishers do not add value. They add value and this price must be paid. But it should not be paid by the reader.

Syrians and Iraqis arriving at a Greek island: The European Union is looking for researchers among the refugees

GGIA/WikicommonsSyrians and Iraqis arriving at a Greek island: The European Union is looking for researchers among the refugeesGGIA/Wikicommons

Then who will pay?
It could be the person publishing. In fact, this already occurs frequently. What happens often and is unfair to the researcher is when he must pay twice. This is what should be eliminated: when you pay to publish and to read.

How can the diplomacy of science advance? What is the European Union thinking about this issue?
Science is fundamental in creating an environment for building bridges where they once were impossible. It is key issue in solving many of our problems. But it is, above all, our ability to undertake inclusive projects in which, on the one hand, we can send signals to countries that are really working towards stabilization and democratization, like Tunisia, and say that this country can participate. This is a strong indicator of approximation. Or go to Ukraine and look for researchers in a country with serious problems and invite them to come to Europe. I recently saw a project in Jordan, the first particle accelerator in the Middle East, which was able to bring together at the same table nationalities such as Israelis, Palestinians, Pakistanis and Iranians, that would never interact.  They sit and talk about science. This brings them together. When conflicts are so hard and difficult, the only way to obtain a rapprochement is to bring people together to discuss other topics that are not related to the conflict. These are small steps. We recently launched a project on our website called Science 4 Refugees, to find refugees who are scientists and do not know who to contact. And put them in touch with universities, with research centers that might need this type of talent.

Have they found a lot of people?
A lot of people and also many interested universities. Many refugee scientists have already registered. We’re talking about a niche, but anything can help at a time as terrible as what we are experiencing in Europe.