To Peter Burnham depoliticisation is a trend that

To What Extent Can RRI Help Politicise Science?

One of the newest
trends in the scientific community and science governance is RRI, responsible
research and innovation. RRI is an approach that fosters sustainable and inclusive
research and innovation. It is supposed to anticipate societal expectations and
implications of research and innovation and promises to include all societal
actors in the research process. 1
In the context of the European Union, RRI was first mentioned in the
Horizon2020 programme. All new research projects should work accordingly to the
RRI framework. It is a new form of science governance that will either reform
the way science is accepted within society and improve the politicisation of
science or it will do neither. 1

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Science, politics,
and the publics have relationships that are quite fragile and need to be treated
with delicacy. Quite a few can be provoked if not. This is why there are
multiple developments arising simultaneously to balance these relationships but
they might be opposing one another.

In the last
decades, depoliticisation has become more and more prominent within the
scientific community. According to Peter Burnham depoliticisation is a trend
that supposedly moves the decision making away from the government and places
it in the public-sphere.2  Giving
the whole decision making process another regulatory system that is not ruled
by politicians. Depoliticisation, in that sense, is defined by the way we view
politics. If we think about politics only within the context of political
parties and governments and we use it as our frame of reference it than defines
that the regulatory systems are removed from politicians’ hands and it is placed
into the hands of external actors that are not involved with political parties
or governments.  

This trend is re-emerging in the scientific community as a possible result of
current political situations. Part of these situations have been caused due to
the publics’ losing their faith in science and scientists. This might not necessarily
be because they lost their trust in science but because they are excluded from
any political and scientificML1  debates. Only bigger parties and actors are involved in debates and
discussions, neglecting the possibility that what they are discussing is of any
social relevance for the public.3 Hence the credibility of science,
scientist, and researchers is deteriorating.
This loss of faith can be addressed by the depoliticisation movement. It will give
the publics more power and they will be part of the actual science governance systemML2 .

Problems that might arise here are that certain sensitive issues will need to
be addressed by politicians such as for example nuclear power. This is an issue
that needs to be governed by experts in both politics and science on the
grounds that those people studied the topic. Quite frankly not everyone in the
publics has experience with nuclear power and should therefore not have the
power to decide over such risky, maybe even fatal, issues. For less dangerous
issues, which are of great societal interest, the publics should be part of the
regulatory system.

Politicisation on
the other hand could be seen as a tool for manipulation. Politicised science can
be used for the political agendas and it is exactly this trend that leads to the
distrust of scientist and science. Science is politicised when its practices
and institutions are actively and consistently challenged by a larger group of
individuals.4  A large group of
individuals is not necessarily fear inducing for scientist but its large group
with the same ideologies that could induce a significant change and politicise
science.

Thus the politicisationML3  of science can evoke considerable complex situations that need to
be treated consciously. Politicians need to anticipate the societal impact of research
and innovation, and if they fail to address these properly it can lead to
multiple problems. Also, if politicians withhold certain information the public
might take drastic measures to provoke politicians and underline the fact they
have been kept out of the debate.3
Politicisation has the possibility to be used as a means to include more actors
and a greater diversity of voices and considering the values of all actors and
stakeholders. 3

This is where RRI
comes into play. RRI focuses on the benefits the research provides for society.
Researchers and scientist have the responsibility to adapt to societal needs
and pressure. Through RRI societal actors and stakeholders are involved in
research projects from the beginning. RRI is designed to expand the democratic
input into the governance of science by involving the publics.
Public actors now are involved from the beginning and are not only given the
political output after the project is finished but they can actually have an
influence from the beginning, and their perceptions and needs are included. Only
being exposed to the political output can lead to resistance by the public.4
 

However the politicised side of science is now included from the start. This
will supposedly align science with society. Thus RRI opens the doors for
adaptation. Researchers are now able to anticipate and balance societies needs
and expectations with their research. Their engagement and broader
participation can also promote creativity.4

Another issue research
institutions and universities have to deal with is that no proper guidelines have
been established yet for the implementation of RRI, creating all kinds of hurdles,
but also the freedom to design RRI so that it can fit their institution better.
5

‘Responsible
research and innovation’ will provide the publics with a sense of security that
their voices are heard and that they will be included in debates and decision
making processes. This moves the politicisation from the output towards the
input, meaning that the publics are not just hit with the finished decisions and
regulations, but they have an influence on the whole process and their voices
will be heard. When done right institutions will open their doors for dialogue
and public debate.3,4
Nevertheless, RRI is a project with great potential to connect science, politics,
and publics, but current political situations (e.g.: Trump and Brexit) do not
allow for such debates and dialogue that are needed to strengthen the relationship of the public with science,
which was disintegrated by years of exclusion. An important question, related
to aligning science with society, that we need to ask ourselves is if we live
in a society which values we want to incorporate into our science? Do we really
want racism, sexism, misogyny, and many more societal flaws reflected in science,
research, and innovation?