Dr. Felix Müller
Good afternoon, Mr. Müller! Nice to talk to you. Can you tell us a little about your background?
Gladly. I’m a chemist, got my doctorate in chemistry in 1992, and then worked in the chemical industry. First at Goldschmidt, which then turned to SKW, which then turned to Degussa, which then came to Evonik. For many years, I worked in a field that involved detergents, cosmetics, foodstuffs, and a whole range of everyday products that are nowadays usually marketed through Open Innovation, in cooperation with companies that bring the products to market. For the past ten years, I’ve been a partner for universities at Evonik, taking up Open Innovation topics and driving joint projects forward.
We first interviewed you a year ago. Where do you observe changes in open practices in science and innovation and in the willingness to use them, sparked by the Corona crisis?
Back in 2020, I personally felt that we were still at the very beginning with the Corona crisis. At that time, I said – no one can competently assess the health and economic consequences, especially in countries with limited medical infrastructure.
I expected dramatic dislocations, especially in the modern service industry, and predicted that the supplying sectors, agriculture and industry would have to prepare for a more locally oriented supply chain. For Open Innovation, I thought, this would certainly be a significant burden. Projects and initiatives would continue to be pursued, but the strong focus on more or less one topic would make new approaches difficult.
And what do you say today?
To put it bluntly, I think the German government has probably read my assessment word for word, because it has focused strongly on maintaining the functionality of the manufacturing industry during the crisis.
And you can see quite clearly that this is still a burden for Open Innovation. Especially in the collaboration between companies and universities. In the last 12 months, we felt that we saw a third less in research output than in previous years. There were also fewer master’s theses, doctoral dissertations and papers. In our field, this was mainly due to the lack of lab time; these have fallen by the wayside with the pandemic. Sharing data continues to be difficult, but we have learned to improvise and there are now better technical solutions. New innovations are currently emerging.
What opportunities and challenges are associated with the changes described?
I see both opportunities and challenges. A year ago, I had already said in our conversation that new local innovation alliances in particular need to be set up and that whoever manages to position themselves as a university or company and forge new connections has an advantage. This has proven true in the pandemic. Of course, it’s not far from Darmstadt and Hanau to Mainz, and collaborations work perfectly even in a crisis. Some things are easier than in cooperation with America or Asia, for example. I see more and more local innovation alliances in more and more areas – in Germany and also in Europe. For example, we have many collaborations between North Rhine-Westphalia with Belgium or Holland. There are some great initiatives as the Brightlands Network in the Netherlands or the there that function in particular via regional networks like the NWMP network (Cluster NanoMicroWerkstoffePhotonik). It is certainly helpful here that these are also politically supported.
What do you think your workspace will look like in terms of openness and collaboration after the crisis?
Even after the Corona crisis, no industrial stakeholder in the value chain will be able on its own to carry out fundamental innovations in a limited time frame. Therefore, an ecosystem from the university to the consumer goods producer or OEM will then be just as necessary as before the crisis. However, the partners will then probably be more local for the time being.
Dr Lutz Möller
With our Openness Scanner, we aim to detect and track transformation processes. In interviews, we explore the question of where science and innovation stand in various fields with regard to their degree of openness, what impact current developments, such as the Corona pandemic or even the climate crisis, are having, and to what extent this can result in effective long-term changes.
Dr Lutz Möller is Deputy Secretary-General of the German Commission for UNESCO. In 2019, its 193 member states commissioned UNESCO to develop a Recommendation on Open Science. This international legal document is to be adopted in the fall of 2021 – the first ever global intergovernmental legal document on Open Science. UNESCO’s intergovernmental negotiations on this topic have just taken place in May 2021; there is no more obstacle for its adoption in November.
In our Openness Scanner, we discussed with Lutz Möller how open practices have changed in the wake of the Corona crisis, what opportunities and risks are associated with them, and what role science can play as a pioneer for an open society across national borders.
Mr. Möller, where do you observe changes in open practices in science and innovation and in the willingness to use them, sparked by the Corona crisis?
You don’t have to be an expert to see how much practices have changed since the outset of the Covid 19 pandemic. Most visible is the new importance of preprints. These have been standard practice in some scientific disciplines for more than 20 years; however, many researchers in other disciplines had not even heard of the practice. In the midst of the pandemic, suddenly even the “common citizen” knew that a well-known virologist had just published a preprint, and that this is how you publish to quickly achieve progress, but that you can’t immediately attach the same significance to its results as to peer-reviewed publication.
There was just as much talk about research data, how important its exchange is for scientific progress – otherwise Prof. Drosten’s team at Charité in Berlin, Germany, would not have been able to develop the first global test for SARS-CoV-2 as early as mid-January 2020; otherwise we would not have gained a comprehensive understanding of the virus and its spread pathways at breathtaking speed; otherwise we would not ultimately have been able to develop half a dozen vaccines within just one year. At the same time, the fact that openness and privacy have to be weighed carefully was a constantly burning issue, not only in the development of the Corona apps, at least in Central Europe.
In my opinion, two things happened at the same time: A clear, irreversible push for much more openness in science. And the rapid development of sober understanding that you can’t approach openness naively and rashly.
It was a lucky coincidence that UNESCO had already decided at the end of 2019 to develop a document of international law (UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science) on this issue by 2021. Thus, it was able to support and advance the international discussion since the beginning of the pandemic.
Already on March 30, 2020, UNESCO organized a global conference of science ministers on Open Science and Covid-19 research. This was attended by 77 Ministers from around the world, including several from the European Union and the relevant European Union and African Union Commissioners, as well as the WHO Chief Scientist. Many ministers spoke in favor of the targeted expansion and strengthening of the application of Open Science principles, especially in the context of the Covid 19 pandemic. For example, the French government had previously called for free public access to all pandemic research data and results, and this is even a requirement for specifically funded projects in France. It is an obvious result of the aforementioned videoconference that Open Science is now also being pushed by those governments that presumably have attached little importance to Open Science so far.
UNESCO’s intergovernmental negotiations at the beginning of May 2021 on its international law text were also a powerful signal for a further opening of science. Without exception, the UNESCO member states spoke in favour of such further opening (“as open as possible”), the negotiations in detail were concerned with reaching an understanding on the conditions under which opening is not possible – the second half of the formula (“as closed as necessary”) did not even make it into the text.
What are the opportunities and challenges?
The opportunities for Open Science as a movement are great and obvious. The same applies to the opportunities for science to further clarify its role as a pioneer for an open society that holds together and networks across national borders. Rapid progress now strengthens civil society’s confidence in the science system. However, several challenges exist, for example:
First, there is the threat of too quick fixes in the open provision of data. Good research data should be reliably published anonymized and accompanied by meta-data so that the content, as contained in raw data, can be properly interpreted. As a consequence, it is important to provide data with properly agreed open licenses to secure copyrights.
Furthermore, there is a risk that research data will be misused with intent. It must be ensured that scientists and other stakeholders have the necessary know-how to classify the data provided and to handle it technically. This also requires an enlightened civil society with an affinity for knowledge. What is needed now is rapid learning progress in scientific practice and supportive accompanying offers – not only in Germany and Europe, but for scientists worldwide. This learning progress must be accompanied by governments in a long term perspective.
The German Open Science discussion is currently very much focused on Open Data and Open Access. However, Open Science means much more: from opening up science to society and the economy to international openness. The focus on Open Data and Open Access might be necessary in the pandemic, but should not distort the comprehensive aspiration of Open Science, which includes Citizen Science and Open Innovation.
What activities do you expect for your own work in terms of openness and collaboration after the crisis?
The German Commission for UNESCO has intensified its work on Open Science in the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic. Our Executive Committee had already adopted a statement on April 2, 2020, which has been taken up by some of our Partners around the world: Link
We have published a comprehensive guide, organized several webinars, and made Open Science a topic in several conferences. We will continue to be engaged in the debate and will also link Open Science to the promotion of good scientific practice. Most importantly, we look forward to UNESCO adopting the first global international law text on Open Science in November 2021. We are also very glad that the quality of this text will be high and will advance Open Science worldwide in the coming years.