No one must evade responsibility
Maris Lauri (Reform Party), Mihhail Lotman (Isamaa), Lauri Läänemets (Social Democratic Party), Aadu Must (Centre Party) and Jaak Valge (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) discussed research funding and the relationships between science and politics in the discussion panel of “The Riigikogu Toimetised” on 16 April.
JAAK VALGE: I believe that everyone here agrees that we need research that supports the functioning of the Estonian society, economy and culture. It is definitely very beneficial for a scientist’s research motivation when there is interest in their research and it can be applied in the service of the Estonian economy and society. The indicators describing how much funding the Estonian research receives from business and society unambiguously show that the Estonian research is like the research of some kind of a half-colonial country. If we do not engage in the research that our society actually needs, we engage in the research that large countries need, especially when we speak of applied science. We should talk about how our research would better meet the needs of society.
MARIS LAURI: The readiness to discuss knowledge has decreased in Estonia.
This is worrying. We should apply our knowledge and make decisions on the basis of knowledge, not belief. We should avoid situations where we put aside discussion and pick only suitable facts and, in the case of unsuitable facts or positions, say that the other person is stupid or knows nothing about the matter. We have a common understanding at the table that politicians should not tell researchers what to do. The implementation side and the knowledge transformation side of our research perhaps need an additional impetus in order that stronger amplification from private sector would also be created in the business sector. To put it roughly, if the state contributes one per cent into research, the private sector might contribute two per cent.
LAURI LÄÄNEMETS: Labelling has a bad effect on research. The more labelling there is, the less discussion there is. To my mind, this encourages a situation where people listen more to all kinds of sorcerers and pseudo-science, or how to call it. I mean the flat earth theories and all such things. We ourselves amplify it, we boost it. Besides, it is very good that our researchers go abroad in order to realise their potential. However, if salary is the reason, then it is actually a problem, then we have done something wrong. If at all possible, increasing research funding should be the goal, then the contribution from private sector would also increase.
MIHHAIL LOTMAN: I think that politics and science should be separated from each other, and they should be kept as separate as possible. At the same time, no one must evade responsibility. There is the researcher’s responsibility, and there is the politician’s responsibility. We need to educate society, but not specifically a political party or certain politicians. In particular, I would not want us to begin to educate voters, telling them to vote for a particular party. I am very sorry that our coalition was unable to fulfil our election promise to allocate one per cent of the state budget to research. In fact, more funds should be allocated to research.
In humanities, often long-term investments are made that yield no result in the following years or even decades, but yield results later.
AADU MUST: During the crises that have arisen in Europe, it has been found that for example social sciences are important and avoid very many risks and very much destruction; they must be taken factually, though. And then all of a sudden it appeared that the solid and unambiguous reliance on facts which was expected of science had somehow gone missing in social science. And we have astonishingly little international cooperation in some areas. However, in science there should be no emotion of “somebody already researched something, let us research no more then”. For example, even environmental research must not be carried out in the case of a biorefinery, because this seems like sacrilege. Emotion is dangerous.