MAJA - Pandemic Edition

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Magazine of the Young Academy

March 2021

ition d E c i m Pande

Post-Pandemic World Scenarios

Cover illustration: Sarah Yu Zeebroek


4 WINNER: A Manifesto for a Better Post-Covid-19 World 9

Life After the Covid-19 Pandemic?


Memento Mori


Reflections of Young Residents Fighting Covid-19


Rethinking Connectedness from Past to Future


Designing Spatial Networks in the Dispersed City


Empirical Study of Prejudice during the Pandemic


Somewhere on the Silk Road


Creating a Europe of Regions


Towards an Ethics of Expert Communication


A Reflection from 2050 on Learning Networks in Academia



New members 2020 – 2025


New members 2021 – 2026



Manifesto: In Defence of a Fallible Science


United forces against Covid-19


The Unequal Impact of Covid-19 in Academia


Science Meets Policy


VRT News Graphs February – April 2020

COLOPHON Responsible publisher: Vincent Ginis, Sylvia Wenmackers Editor in chief: Nele Wynants Editorial board: Rose Bruffaerts, Didier Caluwaerts, Marjan Doom, Vincent Ginis, Lynda Grine, Lies Lahousse, Tine Scheijnen, Bert Seghers, Beatrijs Vanacker, Joris Vandendriessche, Katrien Verveckken, Sylvia Wenmackers Copy-editing: Leo Reijnen – Taal & teken vof Graphic design: Printing and binding: Zwartopwit ISSN: 2295-6158

PREFACE NELE WYNANTS In May 2020, when countries around the world were implementing radical measures to slow the spread of Covid-19, ranging from national quarantines to school closures, the Belgian Young Academy (Flanders) launched a call for inspiration: antici­pating life after the Covid-19 pandemic. As an interdisciplinary group of young academics and artists, we were looking for perspectives that extend beyond the current paralyzing situ­ation. By organizing a contest we hoped to collect inspiring contributions that could help prepare for the indirect, longterm effects of the current pandemic.


lmost a year later, the situation still seems worrying, although the rapid development of a vaccine gives rise to some modest optimism. Belgian Public Health minister Frank Vandenbroucke recently expressed some cautious hope, by saying that “we are on a rough and unpredictable sea, but we can already see the island where we want to moor”,

Post-Pandemic World Scenarios adding “the kingdom of freedom” is on the horizon again. With this biblical metaphor—also taken up by Hegel and Marx—the socialist politician appealed to a deep longing of people to be free. It was this long-term perspective, the island in the distance, that the Young Academy had in mind when it launched its call. This will definitely not be a ‘return to normal’ as some might hope. What is certain is that we will dock in a changed world, although equipped with the new insights we have learned from this crisis. The aim of the contest was to enrich discussions and to encourage novel ideas and perspectives, irrespective of their originator. At the same time, the organizers wanted to collect good practices and pass them on to universities, (young) academies, governments, and other organizations. Following an assessment procedure that was conducted anonymously, an interdisciplinary jury selected one prize winner from twenty submissions. In addition, the jury chose ten other inspiring contributions, which are collected in this special issue of Maja, the magazine of the Young

It was this longterm perspective, the island in the distance, that the Young Academy had in mind when it launched its call.

Academy. The selection offers a wide range of perspectives: some worrying, others encouraging and full of hope. They provide a broad overview of the challenges we are facing in our globalized world in terms of health, climate, diversity, mobility, culture, economy, and academia. A selection inevitably means that choices had to be made. Some contributions were not retained, but we still wish to mention some of those ideas here. For instance, the jury appreciated the concern for the enormous waste pile of medical materials and the plea for a circular economy in hospitals. Attention was also drawn to how the infectious pandemic is harming a growing local sharing economy, public transport, and work-life balance. We trust, however, that these ideas and concerns will find their way into future reflections. While our magazine is usually written in Dutch, this special issue is published in English, which allows us to distribute it internationally. Moreover, the majority of the entries were submitted in English, including that of the winner. After having selected the winning entry, the jury was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was the work of an international consortium of 32 young academics, researchers, and students. Collaboration is a recurring theme in this issue. This is indeed something we have learned from the crisis: the importance of local, national, and international cooperation and dialogue can


hardly be overestimated. Here too, the Young Academy took an important initiative. During the first phase of the crisis, a Slack environment was set up to bring Belgian academics and scientists from various disciplines into dialogue with each other about acute themes and needs. The focus was on three major lines of action: (1) alternative production of ventilators, (2) supporting the Taskforce ‘Vlaanderen helemaal digitaal’, and (3) crowdsourcing on blended learning, telework, and social distancing.

The selection offers a wide range of perspectives: some worrying, others encouraging and full of hope. Members of the Young Academy also took part in the public debate, for example on the role of science in advising politicians. We drew attention to the fact that the Covid-19 crisis risks to increase the existing (gender) inequalities in academia (as well as in the wider society) and we highlighted the importance of stakeholders in research processes. In a manifesto, the scientists and artists of the Young Academy call for more confidence in science and an acknowledgement of its fallibility. All these actions and initiatives are being reported in the second section of this special Covid-19 issue.

Manifesto A Manifesto for a Better oBetter Post-Covid-19 World World winner contest

INSIST network

Covid-19 is Showing the Fallacy of the Neo-liberal Age Our ways of living, acting, and thinking are subject to—historically contingent— material, politico-economic, and socio-cultural framework conditions, and path dependen­ cies. In the city, urban infra­ structures are a good example of this. They shape our everyday practices: from mobility, dwelling, and leisure to care, working, and shopping. If there are no cycling lanes, it is difficult to use the bicycle to satisfy our need for mobility. If there are no green spaces, we cannot meet our demand for recreation without having to leave the city. If there is a lack of open urban space, physical distancing becomes impossible.

However, these collective systems, necessary for satisfying basic needs and gene­ rating well-being, have been fundamentally undermined by a radical individualism that emerged in the neoliberal era of the 1980s. The individual (consumer) became the central locus of attention. Individual market choice (in line with rational-choice theory)


replaced common political decisions. The individual replaced the collective subject. Privatization, the retreat of the state and the commodification of ever-new areas of life have been logical consequences of this strain of thought. Within this dogma, it is the individual that is to blame if the virus cannot be contained or if a transition

to a more ecologically sustainable mode of living is not achieved. These actions are no longer conceived as a collective endeavour. Individual responsib­ility replaced collective responsibi­lity. Market logics characterized by an ability-­to-pay morality replaced democratic delibe­ rations and the negotiation of those values that structure our lives. Democracy turned into a supermarket, the city into a magnet for inter­national capital. Covid-19 has revealed this way of thinking for what it is: a dangerous fallacy. Coping with crises, be it Covid-19 or the climate crisis, cannot be left to market forces and the individual alone. Covid-19 demonstrates that we need to regain the ability to deliberate among a plurality of actors—to discuss, disagree, argue, gain new perspectives, disagree (again). And, ultimately, find compromises on how we want to live together, not necessarily as friends, but at least as equals and certainly not as enemies. Covid-19 has revived a new sense of com­munity, mutual respect, and help. It has restored the insight that we are deeply embedded in and dependent on collective systems and those who maintain them—from infrastructures and health services to communities and (often) strangers (cashiers, delivery workers, nurses, sani­ tation workers, and so on). Therefore, we need to build new forms of and strengthen colla­ boration between a di­versity of actors on multiple levels to shape our common paths towards the future.

We cannot go back to normal because normality was the problem The Covid-19 crisis is simply an expression of a more significant crisis that humanity is going through: a civilization crisis. We must unlearn to consider ourselves as the most important beings on Earth, superior to other species. We all are part of the Earth; it does not need us, but we do need it. So, we must live with it. We must unlearn that development is only syn­ony­mous with economic growth, competitiveness, and pro­ductivity. Development also has an immaterial side: health, fellowship, joy, the beauty of building something in commonality, productivity as the fact of doing more with less, protecting ourselves in soli­ darity, giving and receiving love. During the 2008 economic crisis, we witnessed the rise of social movements outraged by neoliberal policies. Were these protests a fight for a fairer world, or did they arise from the recovery need of the artificial, comfortable, and individualis­ tic world that had been sold to society? The 2008 crisis created the perfect conditions for the emergence of neo-populism, a thought based on the rise of the emotional factor, nurtu­ ring a brutalized and credulous society lacking critical capacity. The same community that, today, prefers to support people such as Greta Thunberg as the prophet girl of the apocalypse dramatically upset with the world, instead of acknowledging scientific arguments. 5

‘A MANIFESTO FOR A BETTER POST-COVID-19 WORLD’ is a conclusion part of INSIST Cahier 4, the final output of the intensive International Module in Spatial Development Planning (IMSDP) programme in Leuven (Belgium), organized by the Planning and Development Research Unit, KU Leuven. Contributors are 32 young academics, researchers, and students, participating in IMSDP from March through May 2020. They represent various fields of study and come from almost all continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin-America. Therefore, the analysis presented varies, providing a kaleidoscopic understanding of Covid-19’s impacts as well as socially innovative responses from different perspectives. The writing and discussing process ran intensively for six weeks, exclusively through online meetings and collaboration, followed by three postprocessing weeks. All contributors were actively involved from the beginning in a bottom-linked writing process. They generally used data sourced from digital media and primary data through observations/interviews/questionnaires. The framework uniting the diverse writing are the pandemic implications through the lens of social innovation.

Compared to the Covid-19 outbreak, the climate crisis has never been recognized as a crisis, maybe because society has created the perfect framework to guide our decisions based solely on our emotions while discrediting the scientific. Or, perhaps, because the climate crisis does not affect the minori­ty that dominates and commodifies most of the planet’s natural resources and has decision-making power. Isn’t that why, today, they force us to use the term ‘resilience’, to manipulate these vulnerable groups into accepting the persistent inequalities of this system and its effects, such as climate change?

This pandemic has proved that every nation, whether developed or not, needs to rethink how they undertake planning and development of their territories. Today’s predominant politics are obsolete, inflexible, and inhuman, revolving around the state, institutions, and capital. Let’s not let this pandemic be a pretext to continue with failed recipes for economic reactivation policies that only benefit the minority of privileged individuals and corporations that have done nothing but produce greater inequality. We need to change current politics into one that is dynamic, adaptive, and interdependent, like life itself. For this, we could incorporate biology, ecology, and life sciences. In this way, we would live in a society that practices a policy of life, for life, and to live life. As many people have been saying, “we cannot go back to normal because normality was the problem”. It is up to us to rethink what world or worlds we want for future generations. Perhaps it is about that—accepting that it is possible to live with different worlds respectfully and that, together, we can build universal ideas based on dialogue and conflict, with critical regard towards previous hegemonic impositions. In the case of a crisis, the conflict between individual and community desires is enhanced. When resources are limited, people frequently rely on governments to provide an organized rescue plan. This

also evokes a moral dilemma as individuals wish to maintain the right to choose how to comply with legislation. Their practices are often driven by a cost-benefit evaluation between their needs and the social values as a whole. Therefore, it is essential (for individuals, companies, and governments) to create a structure that delineates accountability while maintai­ ning principles that underpin each community’s foundation. Realigning incentives are required to develop reserves in the best times to provide an efficient buffer and downturn response mechanism.

Rethinking within a ‘bigger nature’. People taking the lead, solidarity-supporting states, and the market back in its place.

People have proven to be able to organize, adapt, and take the lead in crises like these, mainly through cooperation and mutual collaboration. New partnerships and cooperation at multiple levels must be strengthened to successfully emerge from this crisis and should lead to a reorganization of communities, where people can truly take a stand as educated, adult, and resilient individuals. Governments are vital in coping with crises and provi­ ding democratic guidance when 6

needed, as well as supportive of healthy communities in general. They should provide the material, social, economic, political, and cultural basis for communities to thrive and be democratic, pluralist, diverse, alive, and accessible—refocusing their investments from merely ser­ving markets and their influential players to supporting foundational economies, healthy and active communities, and bottom-linked governance. Markets are assumed to be the pinnacle of human wisdom and technological improvement. In reality, large parts of societies have become subordinate to commodification. Building on heterodox thinking, markets should be reduced to mere resource allocation systems embedded in pro-social networks, solidarity economies, grounded democratic decision-­ making, and rich cultural practices, rather than enclosing nature and humans in vicious extractive growth. Big governments, multinational corporations, and global markets have created autonomous, un-earthed, and socially detached spheres. The interactive and interscalar global and local dynamics and expressions of the pandemic have proved that ‘big’ government, corporations, and markets depend on the most local sphere, whether they like it or not, so they must start giving it the attention and importance it needs. Urbanization and anthropocentric worldviews have led to a significant reduction in people’s contact with their natural environment. When Covid-19 and wild nature

1. The presumed positive effects of Covid-19 on climate change in terms of more ecologically sustainable living conditions need to be interpreted in their broader socio-political context—by recalling long-standing challenges about political inertia, power struggles, and institutional assets.

forced us humans to restrict our activities, we saw the actual colour of our Mother Earth. It is high time for humankind to rethink and adjust its position as part of a more prominent nature. A starting point is seeing the planet as a global common that needs to be taken care of.

Our Notion for a Future Agenda

Covid-19 has been a disruption of the way we think about our cities and rural areas. This pandemic has proved that every nation, whether developed or not, needs to rethink how they undertake planning and develop­ment of their territories. It has provided an opportunity to rethink governance systems, urban-rural linkages, community solidarity, inter­national labour and trade, climate change, the provision of basic services, and the well-­being and safety of residents. A shift to a more nature-embedded attitude is needed both for the environment and humanity. To prepare the post-Covid-19 world, the new ‘normal’ needs a radical agenda.

2. Transformative endeavours need to shift their focus from market incentives to collective rules, institutions, and infrastructures. 3. A city’s functionality needs to be measured in terms of its ability to provide welfarecritical goods and services instead of its ability to attract international capital, tourists, investors, and highly mobile knowledge workers. 4. The agenda should focus on addressing the disproportion in service delivery— non-commodification of basic services. There is a need for immediate action for access to better health care for the urban poor and rural communities. 5. The closure of borders has revealed the extent to which food systems, which could (and should) be localized, are dependent on international labour and trade. Creating more sustainable and resilient food systems requires vision, effort, and long-term investment, and these systems need to be in place when new disasters strike.


ABDELLATIF ATIF (Free university of Bolzano,

6. Self-organization of communities should be stimulated to develop innovative interventions in the use of public spaces and mobility, the provision of different open areas on the neighbourhood level and scaled-down investment in people-driven mobility such as walking and cycling in cities. 7. Affordable housing should be a human right, in which the voice of marginalized communities should be heard; these communities should truly benefit from any development programmes aimed at their improvement.

Italy), CARLOS ESCARPENTER MARTINEZ, CANAVATE (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Spain; KU Leuven, Belgium), CHRISTINE MUCHIRI NJUHI (Technical University of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya), CLARA MEDINA GARCÍA (KU Leuven, Belgium; UCM, Spain), DAWIT GEBREHIWET (Ethiopian Institute of Technology – Mekelle University, Ethiopia), DORA BELLAMACINA (Mediterranean University of Reggio Calabria, Italy), ESHETE SITOTAW (Addis Ababa City Plan and Development Commission, Ethiopia), FARZANA YASMIN (KU Leuven, Belgium), FEDERICA ROTONDO (Politecnico of Turin, Italy), FRANK MOULAERT (KU Leuven, Belgium), GENARO ALVA ZEVALLOS (IMSDP Network), GRACE VALASA (Technical University of Kenya, Kenya), HONGKAI CHEN (KU Leuven, Belgium), ISYE SUSANA NURHASANAH (KU Leuven, Belgium;

8. Local-scale solidarity networks should be co-constructed and sharing values should precede actions in this process. Solidarity actions based on collective values have a reliable power to reproduce communities and become institutionalized.

Institut Teknologi Sumatera, Indonesia), JOAN NYAGWALLA OTIENO (KU Leuven, Belgium; Technical University of Kenya), JULIET NJERI RITTA (Technical University of Kenya), KAMMERHOFER ARTHUR (KU Leuven, Belgium; TU Wien, Austria), MARJAN MARJANOVIC (Bartlett School of Planning, University College London,

9. Inter-community relations and diversity should be fostered since they play an essential role in the capacity of communities to reform themselves and overcome challenges such as a potentially socially destructive pandemic.

UK), MARTINA BOCCI (Politecnico di Torino, Italy), MOHAK JHAWAR (KU Leuven, Belgium), MONICA MARTINEZ FERNANDEZ (KU Leuven, Belgium; ETSAM, Spain), MULUBERHANBIEDEMARIAM TASSEW (Shire Campus Aksum University, Ethiopia), NINELIA MARKARIAN (KU Leuven, Belgium), NUR HAMIDAH (Bandung Disaster Study Group; U-Inspire, Indonesia), PIETER

10. Proper care of physical and mental health during and after the pandemic is essential not only on a personal but also on an institutional level.

VAN DEN BROECK (KU Leuven, Belgium), RICHARD BÄRNTHALER (Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria), SONIA MOLLICA (Mediterranean University of Reggio Calabria, Italy), SYLVIA INZIANI (Maseno University, Kenya), VIDYA SPAY (Nata Desa Indonesia), WOSSEN GEBREYOHANNES (EiABC, Ethiopia), YESCHA DANANDJOJO (IMSDP Network) 8


to Full Steam Ahead Life After the Covid-19 Pandemic

Anne Snick Life after what, exactly, are we talking about? Of course, Covid-19 is a virus with a disastrous effect on people’s health, a pandemic we must beat. However, it is also an archetype from old mythology or folk lore that suddenly appeared in our midst, handing out fearful blows to our economic system and human-centric worldview. It holds up a mirror to our deep assumptions about what it means to be ‘human’, how we relate to nature, and how we define human and scientific ‘progress’. It reveals the anomalies of our paradigm so blatantly we can no longer look away. However, in the cracks of that worn-out narrative, a new one emerges from niches of creativity, wisdom, and hope. The Thief and The Witch So what archetype is Covid-19? That is a question scholars may juggle with for decades to come. There are several options. It could be the Thief who lets us choose between relinquishing our money or our life. The swiftness with which the global economy came to a full stop to save lives is unseen in history. However, the corona curve is tiny compared to the

graphs depicting threats such as climate change, biodiversity loss, or ocean acidification. Like the pandemic, those are unintended effects of an expansive economic model, fuelled by an entanglement of fossil energy, extractive money, and technological innovations devised to exploit nature. Since the 1970s, concerned scientists, civil society actors, and entrepreneurs have urged to “flatten those curves”, and 9

nations everywhere have signed agreements to fight global warming, protect biodiversity, and promote sustainable development. Nevertheless, those concerns never seemed urgent enough for mainstream economic and political powers to stop exploiting nature to make money. Until corona arrived.

Paradoxically, life after the pandemic will only start when we realize there is no ‘after’.

So maybe the archetype is the Wise Woman disguised as a Witch, who came to teach humans painful yet crucial lessons. She warns us that unrestricted expansionism turns the planet into an unsafe place, a twilight zone called ‘Anthropocene’. Yet, we also learned that there are safer pathways available. Citizens and peer-to-peer platforms responded massively by making the face masks and respiratory devices that private and public sectors were unable to provide, working for the common good. Consumers discovered that locally grown food is safer and healthier than the agro-industrial produce supermarkets sell, and that care is best organized collectively. The pandemic let us rediscover the beauty of clear skies, the joy of riding bicycles, and our deep need to be close to our loved ones. In a profound, meaningful way, we learned what truly matters in life: community, health, solidarity, beauty, and love, things deemed of no value in the dominant model of economic growth, competition, and technological control. Paradoxically, life after the pandemic will only start when

we realize there is no ‘after’. Threats like an unstable climate and animal-borne diseases will not go away; they are here to stay. Life will reboot only when it dawns on us that we may win a battle against a virus but not the war against nature. The Holocene, the past era of 12,000 years with its exceptionally stable climate, allowed humans to settle, develop agriculture and writing, and create civilizations. That stability gave Western culture the idea that nature runs like clockwork. It made us believe we can change one part of it and predict (‘ceteris paribus’) how that will impact the whole. It nourished the ideology that humans are separate from nature and can know reality ‘objectively’. Today, we still believe technologies ‘proven’ in the artificial conditions of a lab will also be beneficial to society when applied at a large scale in the messy dyna­mics of the real world. Moreover, science implicitly embraces the ancient Indo-European narrative that God created us in His image and


gave us nature as a resource we can own and exploit for our sole benefit. For a long time, this paradigm looked successful. Until we started seeing and feeling its anomalies.

Fostering new paradigms

Thomas Kuhn shows that anomalies—phenomena not predicted by the dominant science model— foster new para­digms. Life after Covid-19 will start anew once we let go of our Holocene assumptions; after all, science should allow us to adapt to life’s evolution and learn from nature how we can thrive on Earth. Already a new epistemology is emerging in niches of the research landscape. Systems thinking—studying the interconnectedness of all living and non-living beings—saw the light in the mid-twentieth century. In 1977, Belgian chemist Ilya Prigogine earned the Nobel Prize for his work (with Isabel Stengers) on autocatalysis, i.e., the process whereby from intense interactions among

If a critical mass of researchers embraces this paradigm, they can appeal to policy makers and funding agencies to support it. simple systems, more complex ones emerge, with behaviours that cannot be derived from the features of the earlier (sub) systems. All life began as single cells and grew more complex and diverse over time, with organisms depen­ding on each other for cocreating lifesupporting physical and social ecosystems. One cannot study a beehive by obser­ving bees under a microscope. Neither can we make sense of life by focusing on humans only. Today, from global economic and technological systems’ intense interactions with nature, new planetary processes emerge. They display volatile, unstable, complex, and uncontrollable dynamics; they appear as ecological and social disruptions that could not be predicted from the planet‘s previous state while using a mechanistic worldview. The Anthropocene signals the evolution of life towards the next level of complexity, and it takes a relations-based paradigm and an advanced methodological framework for science to understand its emergent features. To realign

science with society’s needs and values, the European Commission launched Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), which may leverage a new paradigm. However, not all RRI uses a systemic lens or restores peace with Earth since scientific practices and institutions are formatted within the old, separatist model; to see with a new lens, researchers must first unlearn what they took for granted and learn to embrace a new framework.


How to make this paradigm shift happen in time, i.e., before we reach a point of no return? Let us be pragmatic. Many societal actors recognize that to face current complex issues, STEM-research (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) needs additional skills, knowledge, and capacities (summarized as STEAM); this can create momentum. However, what does the A stand for? Before the pandemic, it was understood as Arts and Humanities, add-on specialisms that can highlight the societal benefits of (implementing) science and technology. Covid-19 reveals that A stands for Anthropocene, understood as humankind’s responsibi­ lity for all life on Earth. Life is a self-propelling process of increasing interdependency and complexity, which cannot be understood by separate disciplines using a single lens. Therefore, A stands for All forms of knowledge that allow humans to make sense of life. It also stands for Adaptation, for 11

learning to ‘land on Earth’ and act as guardians of abundant ecological processes — which do not function like clockwork but evolve in uncontrollable ways. What we are dealing with today are not temporary crises that technology can solve by itself, but signs that the world is now a different place, robbed of its stabilizing buffers. Therefore, research can no longer make relevant progress in ivory towers where parameters are kept stable. It needs real-life labs to gather knowledge from as many sources as possible for mapping the new landscape’s features. Science can learn from pioneers, from sites of resilience, natural intelligence, and indigenous wisdom to gather insights into creating the conditions for us to adapt. Specialists can elucidate more technical and institutional (legal, financial) lock-ins and leverages for change. As life’s evolution is unpredictable, we must accept that our best strategy is to make careful judgments on how to move forward while showing restraint in our dealings with nature. STEAM-education, therefore, must address the learners’ heads (to understand the world as a complex system), as well as their hearts (to foster modesty and empathy with all of life), hands (empowering them to co-­create a better future) and hopes (grieving for a lost world and embracing the emergence of an abundant, regenerative society, safer and healthier than today). Where to learn this? More and more academics, students, and other (public and private) actors start exploring pathways towards a ‘new

normal’. Students launched the ‘Rethinking Economics’ initia­tive in response to the 2008 financial crisis; it now has active groups worldwide, including in several Belgian higher education (HE) institutions. Platforms such as the Copernicus Alliance support the uptake of education for sustainable development. Initiatives such as Ecoversities and Complexity University bring together worldwide networks of learners and communities reclaiming diverse knowledges, relationships, and imaginations to design new approaches to higher education. International networks promoting postcolonialism, complexity-based ‘schools of thinking’, or global governance for sustainable development attract young researchers who want to look beyond the disciplinary boundaries. European projects and partnerships develop frameworks to foster STEAMeducation, Responsible R&I, or transdisciplinary research. Various Flemish HE-institutions have established living labs, honours programmes, or service-­learning projects where students colla­borate with societal actors on real,

This pandemic urges citizens to relinquish the individualistic mindset and question the personal freedom they thought was normal. place-based challenges. These initiatives show the resilience is there; however, they remain small niches in an academic system that is still mostly tributary to the separatist, Holocene paradigm. In terms of funding, career deve­ lopment, and university ran­ kings, the established system is slow to adapt. However, if a critical mass of researchers embraces this paradigm, they can appeal to policy makers and funding agencies to support it. The Jonge Academie can be a catalyst to foster its uptake and launch communities of practice where early career researchers share ideas and lessons learned. Online platforms can make this go viral. No curriculum reform battles are needed.

The Midwife

Our life is deeply intertwined with that of viruses, soils, oceans, and forests, and our chances of survival depend on accepting this undeniable fact of life. Whether or not one accepts to be vaccinated against Covid-19 not only concerns our individual health but affects the well-being of the entire community, both physically and mentally. Therefore, this pandemic urges citizens to relinquish the individualistic mindset and question the personal 12

freedom they thought was normal. Maybe the archetype that most accurately portrays Covid-19 is that of the Midwife assisting in the birth of a new paradigm. She helps us leave the cramped space of separatism and individualism and delivers us to an interconnected world. She urges us to take courage­ ous steps, accept the loss of a familiar worldview, and open our minds and hearts to a vision of life in peace with nature. She welcomes us to the growing community of people explo­ring relational and regenerative models. Full steam ahead, wiser thanks to a pandemic.  ANNE SNICK is an inde­ pen­dent researcher. She obtained a PhD in Philosophy in Education at KU Leuven. After years of academic research, she engaged in fieldwork in the domains of gender, poverty, and the social economy, focusing on systemic drivers of exploitation and regenerative alternatives. She wrote several peer-reviewed publications, serves the community through public speaking and workshops, and is engaged in organizations promoting social justice and sustainability. Her current projects focus on sustainable Higher Education and Responsible R&I. She is a Fellow of the World Academy of Art & Science, and a Board member of the Club of Rome-EU.

Tori Langill

Memento Mori



A Pandemic in Colour Interview with Tori Langill on her Memento Mori comic


must continue to have quality, and the things that give them quality are non-negotiable. Connection with other people is crucial for the quality of life because humans are social creatures. We cannot let fear run our lives. Everything has a risk factor and the person most suited to know what is best for you is most likely you.

Besides conducting research in microbiology, you also make drawings. What is the link between these interests? Drawing and writing have always been a fun way for me to relax while being creative at the same time. Connecting it to my work, it stems from way back when I was still in high school and many of our projects included explaining science in a creative way. I always made comics or stories. I remember one comic in particular about the DNA replication cycle that I made, and also one about weather. That aspect of storytelling has always stayed with me, and so I love to continue to draw and use creative storytelling methods. Recently, for the Day of Science, I created a ma­gical chooseyour-own-adventure story with pictures that explain what my research group does.

In the first part we see black and white drawings, with red accents. In the second panel, a warm yellow is added. What do these colours represent to you in terms of the pandemic? The colours represent the effect on the mood each measure has. On the first page, the grey and black represent fear, panic, depression, while the red which carries over throughout the entire story represents life. In the final panel you can see life being swept away, by the grim reaper. On the second page, the warm tones of yellow represent hope and happiness, while red once again represents life. Overall, it is a symbolic way of saying the choices we make and the paths we choose to follow play a role in how situations make us feel. Are we making choices that will give us hope?

The first part is dark and gloomy and reflects the fear and guilt many of us experienced during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. The last panel of the first part takes a dark turn by stating that people died anyway. Can you elaborate on the meaning of this last panel? The title of my work is Memento Mori, which is Latin for “Remember that you [must] die”. This phrase also has a mirror meaning, because it reminds us that we must live! We cannot control everything that happens in our lives and we cannot control how we will die. The Covid-19 measures play a role in preserving life, but some of them pay no heed to the quality of this life. That is the true meaning behind the comic. Our lives


TORI LANGILL is a Canadian, who has been living in Belgium for five years. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in microbiology and molecular biology, a Master’s in biomedical science, and is currently working on her PhD at Hasselt University. Her research focuses on bacteria from seeds, and how we can potentially use bacteria to treat crops and make them grow better when situations are less than optimal (i.e., in cases of drought, pollution, poor nutrients, and so on). Her passion lies in scientific communi­ cation through creative means.

Reflections of Young Residents Fighting Covid-19 ROSE BRUFFAERTS AND LIES LAHOUSSE

As junior residents in internal medicine, with only six months of clinical practice, Michiel Beyens and Faro Verelst witnessed the outbreak of the pandemic from the frontline. In no time they were recruited at the Covid-19 wards. A new chapter in their medical training began. They were constantly balancing providing good medical care and trying to effectively protect themselves against the virus. Nothing during their medical training had prepared them for an outbreak of such proportions. Michiel, Faro and their colleagues wrote a moving testimony about their experience, which they submitted in response to the Young Academy's contest.1 As they describe, feelings of uncertainty very much prevailed in this first stage of the pandemic. In December 2020, during the second wave, Maja invited them to look back on their experience.

Your text strongly suggests that you were sent into the lion’s den. Did you see that as an opportunity or were you both also fearful of what awaited you? michiel: It’s not like we were alone in this: this situation was also completely new to our supervisors, the consultants. They may have had more experience, but in this case, they too were insecure. This contributed to a special group feeling. For example, cardiologists would come and help out the pneumologists on

the Covid-19 ward. This extra multidisciplinary team effort did bring the entire hospital closer together.

faro: Many of them would be on the Covid-19 ward only occasionally. We were there full-time and so we became the ‘hands-on’ experts. We received input from everyone who had learned something about Covid-19, which was very instructive, and on top of that everyone shared their specific knowledge with us. It was 16

nice to think about a patient together with many other doctors. It led to know­ledge integration.

michiel: During the first wave, the regular daily rush in the clinic was gone: many consul­ tations and imaging procedures completely stopped, leaving more time to consult with each other. In addition, we were able to provide extra input based on our own experience with other patients. Our supervisors were very open to that input.

michiel: Definitely. I was mostly afraid of contaminating my parents, so we maintained a very strict distance. Even now we don’t see each other often. It’s hard, as I miss them. But I wouldn’t forgive myself if I infected my own mother.

Drs. Faro Verelst (L) and Michiel Beyens (R)


I have seen many people die, especially older people, over a brief period of time. It makes you think more about how to give the best palliative care. And was this solidarity something that remained? faro: By now, everyone is focusing more on their own discipline again. Regular healthcare has started up again, which of course is very positive! Now, during the second wave, the residents, the consultants-in-­training, are on duty more often. We no

longer have the assistance of the medical specialists from other disciplines and this extra work now becomes our burden. Sadly, the group spirit from the first wave has dis­appeared somewhat.

michiel: In the hospital where I am currently working, a crea­tive solution was found by calling upon the surgery residents, in addition to the internal me­di­cine residents. Under normal circumstances there is not much contact among us. They took some of the workload from us, which was very positive and nice. Care workers may be apprehensive about the possibility of transmitting the virus to their family members. Was that a concern for you?


faro: This was especially so du­ring the first wave. When I came home, the first thing I always did was take a shower. I am more relaxed about it now, but naturally you wish to prevent infecting a family member at all cost. One has a responsibility to one’s patients, but also to one’s family. Care workers are punish­ed somewhat extra because they can meet fewer people than others. It is a mixed feeling.

Did it change you as doctors? michiel: I have seen many people die, especially older people, over a brief period of time. It makes you think more about how to give the best palliative care. You start to realize how fast things can happen. Even with old people who were quite fit before, are very vulnerable to the virus.

faro: One thing we learned is that informing the family is extremely important. The worst part is accepting the strict rule that they cannot visit the patient. I understand the need for this rule, but family members are worried. And when the patient dies, it can be very difficult for them to accept this because they haven’t seen their loved one anymore. Normally, in a dying process, people notice the condition of their loved one deteriorating

and that makes it easier to accept than when it all takes place suddenly and behind closed doors.

Should that be an item in your training? Should there be more attention to palliative care and communicating with family? michiel: It certainly merits more emphasis. For example, we had to ask people of 92 who arrived in the emergency room in an unstable condition whether they had already discussed issues of their life’s end with their family doctor. Having that conversation at that moment is not a matter of course.


On the Covid-19 ward no one dared to take leave, as there was always the possibility that the ward would overflow in the week to come.

they know who you are and what you did for them. Not this time. I treated one seriously ill patient for four weeks who in the end pulled through. But when this patient later came in for a regular consult, he didn’t recognize me. I find this regrettable: the inte­resting thing about my work is to be close to people. That closeness is no longer there, if only because of that suit.

You may survive these moments of crisis purely on adrenaline, but have you been able to find any time to relax mentally in the past year? faro: Very little. On the Covid-19 ward no one dared to take leave, as there was always the possibi­lity that the ward would overflow in the week to come. This short period around the holidays was also busy, and now the second wave is back in full force.

While lacking obvious therapeutic treatments, you attempt to provide the best possible care. Still, you are confronted with obvious limits that perhaps do not occur in other pathologies. Did this pandemic influence your job satisfaction? faro: Working on the Covid-19 ward and wearing that suit creates a physical distance to your patients. Under normal circumstances, patients will recognize you in the corridors, 18

michiel: When the peak was over, we could let off some steam. Just before the second wave, I had booked a one-week holiday, but then one of my colleagues fell ill. I did feel guilty about ta­king a holiday, but other people said: “You’d better go now, as you may not get a second chance.”

faro: That was the scary thing about the first wave. When you’re young you sometimes feel invincible. You don’t really believe you can become seriously ill. But then we saw colleagues who did really become ill. We started this pandemic feeling invincible, but gradually we realized that the picture wasn’t all rosy for young people either. How do you deal with images in the media and social media or with events in society where people do not follow the rules?


We had to ask people of 92 who arrived in the emergency room in an unstable condition whether they had already discussed issues of their life’s end with their family doctor. Having that conversation at that moment is not a matter of course. faro: In July, after a difficult period of hard work, I saw many friends posting on social media about travelling, even to regions that had ‘code red’. I tried to tell them that we still had to be careful. As care workers we are supposed to be very responsible. That’s a good thing, but if you then see people not taking any responsibility, I can help but feel disappointed.

michiel: As long as people agree that they should limit their contacts with others and stay home when they feel ill, it’s fine with me. But on the Covid-19 ward I’ve also had patients who hadn’t taken these precautions. I don’t mind confronting them: “By travelling and meeting friends while you were already ill and coughing, you have put your friends and family at risk.” This may give them something of a shock, but I think it’s good for people to reflect on this. The clinical picture of this disease is strange, though. Sometimes you may think it’s not so bad when you see patients making a quick recovery and so I do understand why some people

wonder why our entire society must be put on hold for this. At other times, reality hits… Just the other day we had to put a thirty-year old patient to sleep who will likely wake up with a lung transplant. It can often be so extreme. The media sometimes imply that people are being scared, but I feel that it is sometimes ne­ces­sary to make them see how serious the situation is. We are right in the middle of it, which is of course different from the remote experience of it that most people probably have.

What is the most important thing to remember from this crisis and keep in mind for the future, according to you? michiel: It used to be that co-workers often still came to work when they had a fever, simply because they were on duty and thought that no one else could take over their shift. Covid-19 has made us more keenly aware that this is really not okay. This may mean that people stay home sooner when they are not feeling well, but I think we should be flexible 19

MICHIEL BEYENS studied medicine at the University of Antwerp. He started his medical career as a resident in internal medicine in October 2019 and has a specific interest in rheumatology and immunology. At the start of the pandemic, he was working as a first-year resident in the gastro-enterology service in Deurne at the AZ Monica Hospital, together with Faro Verelst. FARO VERELST studied medicine at the University of Antwerp and is a resident in internal medicine. During the first wave of the pandemic, she worked in the Covid-19 unit in Deurne at the AZ Monica Hospital together with Michiel Beyens. Right now, she is a resident in internal medicine in Antwerp at the ZNA Stuivenberg.

about that. When you’re feeling ill, you have to stay home in order to protect others.

Do you have any messages for your younger colleagues? What message should Maja definitely bring to young researchers and young residents? faro: All things pass. I wish to hearten everyone. It is important not to give up hope. This is a difficult period, but we are writing history here. This is not a regular experience and it asks a lot of us as care workers and as individuals, but we do learn from it.

michiel: Team spirit accomplishes more than people think. Fortunately, there are also positive sides to living in this pandemic.  Beyens, Michiel; Faro R Verelst, Greta Moorkens and Marcel ThB Twickler. “Trials and tribulations of young residents fighting Covid-19.” Eur J Clin Invest, vol. 50, no. 7 (July 2020), e13336.


Rethinking Connectedness from Past to Future: An Archaeological Perspective on the Covid-19 Pandemic Dries Daems


he Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted lives across the globe and will have lasting effects for years to come. How can we as archaeologists reflect on these changes and inform our understanding of their implications for the future? If we are to understand how to properly address this situation or future ones like it, we need to consider the implications of connected­ness on multiple scales, that is, interactions and exchanges between people, groups, societies and states across the globe. Can we use

The model predicts that, as societies develop, they will become increasingly interconnected

the past to gain new insights on how to act during and after a pandemic? We have several potential historical points of comparison. The Athenian Plague in 430 BCE, the Black Death in the 14th century CE or the global flu pandemic in the aftermath of World War 1 can be used as comparators. While I will draw attention to one particular historical parallel – the Roman empire – I want to go beyond direct comparisons with the past, but rather focus on using the theories and methods of socialecological sciences in long-term perspectives to interpret the current situation and provide insights for the future.

The present and future through the lens of the past

In my work, I use the model of adaptive cycles to study longterm patterns of social change on multiple scales (Gunderson 20

& Holling. 2002. Panarchy).1 The adaptive cycle (Figure 1) describes changes in available capital, connectedness and resilience of a society through four phases: exploitation, conservation, release, and reorganization. The first two respectively refer to rapid initial growth and the sustained conservation of the system, whereas the latter two refer to its disruption and (potential) reorganization into a new cycle. The model predicts that, as societies develop, they will become increasingly interconnected, resulting in increased capital availability as well as decreased resilience. Let us take the example of the Roman empire, which at its height during the second century CE, comprised regions as far apart as Britain and Iran. As the empire grew, evermore regions were incorporated in a densely interconnected social,

In today’s technologyobsessed society, we often seek salvation in technological innovation and scientific discoveries.





Exploitation Low Release

Co n




e sili Re

dn e


High Figure 1: Adaptive cycle (Gunderson and Holling 2002, 41).

political and economic network of people, goods and ideas. The empire prospered through this connectivity, ushering in a period of economic growth, social mobility and wealth (at least for parts of the population). However, it also became less resilient to disturbances. At the end of the second century CE, the empire was hit by a pandemic, followed by a second outbreak around the middle of the third century CE. Ancient sources relate how the disease first appeared during the Roman siege of Seleucia, a Parthian city in Mesopotamia in what is now Iraq, and subsequently spread throughout the empire by the Roman armies. Estimations of the casualties vary, but numbers of up to 20% of the population are not uncommon. The effects of the disease were also not limited to the Roman empire. Historian Rafe de Crespigny has suggested that descriptions

of a pandemic ravaging the contemporary Han Empire in China could be related to the same disease.2 We are dealing here with a disease spread across large parts of the (Eurasian) world by the movement of individuals and groups, facilitated by a densely connected network of people, cities and regions. The similarities with circumstances today are clear to see. For past events, we can already trace some of their long-term effects. From the perspective of the adaptive cycle, the Roman empire was at the height of the conservation phase when this shock induced a first shift towards release and reorganization. Typical of the latter is the loss of connectedness between system components. While trade, mobility and interaction did not cease in the Roman empire, connections across the network became far more sparse. The 21

loss of interregional integration (among others) led to the gradual dissolution of the empire, first in a western and eastern part, and later in its regional components.

Lessons from the past: Connectivity in the present

Connectedness is what makes a society tick. This is true for today as much as for the past. Yet, as in Roman times, the Covid-19 pandemic is caused by over-connectedness on multiple levels. In contrast to the Romans, however, we have a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of the disease and can act accordingly. All viruses work by hi­jacking trans­mission mechanisms between organisms. As con­ necti­­vity between organisms increases, so does the trans­ mission rate. Ergo, more densely packed spaces result in higher infection rates. In this case, however, it is not

Over the last few decades, humans have expanded throughout ever more parts of the world, destroying or usurping existing environmental niches, a process typical of the exploitation phase of the adaptive cycle. only micro-level biological transmission that is affected, but macro-level social transmission as well. Global connectedness in modern-­day society has turned this disease into a worldwide pandemic. Over the last few decades, humans have expanded throughout ever more parts of the world, destroying or usurping existing environmental niches, a process typical of the exploitation phase of the adaptive cycle. One of the hypotheses regarding the origins of the virus states that SARS-CoV-2 was transmitted from bats to humans, caused by our co-existence in the same niche, paving the way for the virus to transmit from animal to human. As connected­ ness between the human and natural worlds increased – in other words, as the system moved toward a conservation phase – potential dangers grew accordingly. It is likely that the current pandemic will prove to be a major disturbance event with significant long-term effects. If we want to meet these effects on our own terms, we will need to act proactively to self-induce a reorganization phase of

society and define the course of a new adaptive cycle, built around fundamental solutions for the trade-offs between advantages and downsides of connectedness. One common policy response has been to break up connections so that the virus is given no chance to be transmitted. Individuals self-isolate, societies go in lockdown, and countries close their borders. But is this a


viable long-term solution? As lockdowns are dragging on, psychologists and other mental health practitio­ners are increasingly sounding the alarm for our wellbeing. In today’s technology-obsessed society, we often seek salvation in technological innovation and scientific discoveries. Contact-tracing apps have already proven useful in tracking the spread of the disease among individuals, albeit in some countries more effectively than others. The rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines seems to justify our trust in science as supreme saviour. As an academic, you will not hear me object. I will add, however, that the time has come to fundamentally rethink our societal structures and ways of interaction in order to move beyond the immediate threat of the current crisis and raise the resilience and sustainability of our society and

environment for years to come. As aptly noted by the historian Arnold Toynbee, it are ideas, not technology, that drive the biggest historical changes.3 One potentially fruitful approach would be to rethink connectedness as a fundamental property of human societies. Rather than dramatic and society-wide ruptures in connectivity implemented today, an informed policy of ‘thinned’ connectedness with selective targeting of connections to regulate the flows of people and goods may come to play an important role. The burgeoning field of network science will be indispensable to provide deeper understanding of network structures and the role of hubs across multiple scales (local, regional, national, international, global) and domains (social,

The ultimate goal of this overhaul is to boost the resilience of our society in drastic, yet sustainable ways, both for ourselves and the environment.

political, economic, etc.). This scientific knowledge needs to be embedded in proactive and goal-­oriented policies. These need to be tailormade for the task at hand, without discarding previous experiences, for example from the Ebola outbreak in 2014 where the key breakthrough came from medical policies targeting the surrounding areas rather than directly addressing the centre of an outbreak in order to dam further spreading. Again, proper understanding of network structures and targeted interventions are key. Finally, we must think about the connected­ness between society and nature. This does not mean that humans will not be allowed to go into nature anymore, but rather that spatial planning policies must be geared towards distinguishing human and natural zones of activity. Such policies include increasing and protecting our natural assets, as well as optimizing land use related to human habitation and food production. These are only some examples of policies with the potential to radically change connected­ness and the ways we interact with the wider world. The ultimate goal of this overhaul is to boost the resilience of our society in drastic, yet sustainable ways, both for ourselves and the environment. This will be a massive undertaking, requiring active engagement and collaboration between academics from various disciplines, as well as practitioners, politicians and the general public. Do we know for certain where we 23

The time has come to fundamentally rethink our societal structures and ways of interaction. are going next? Probably not. However, the importance of understanding the dynamics of complex networks and socialecological systems employing long-term perspectives cannot be overstated if we are to adequately sketch potential scenario’s and develop policies to deal with this DRIES DAEMS obtained new reality. One his PhD at KU Leuven. thing is certain, He is Assistant Professor in Digital if we are to Archaeology at the find the proper Middle East Technical ways to steer University in Ankara, society towards academic staff member a sustainable with the Sagalassos Archaeological future, Research Project and scholars able to interim lecturer at contextualise KU Leuven. the present through our past will need to sit at the table. Luckily, us archaeologists are eagerly awaiting to be invited to the conversation.  1


Gunderson, Lance H., and C. S. Holling. Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press, 2002.   Crespigny, Rafe de. A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23-220 AD), Brill, 2006.

Toynbee, Arnold J. A Study of History: Volume I: Abridgement of Volumes I-VI. Oxford University Press, 1988.


Global Challenges and Local Conditions


A Designerly Exercise to Uncover the Potential of Spatial Networks in the Dispersed City


Sophie Leemans sewage), in constant need of renewal (such as rapidly obsolete road infrastructure) or simply given up (such as demolishing power plants). This presents the choice of either limiting the exploited capacity of the existing networks and opt for a more selective infill of the territory or, more fundamentally, of rethinking the existing networks and thus also the reciprocal relations between urbanization (human) and the territory (land) in a resilient way.

rban environments are under constant transformation, responding to timely socio-economic challenges. Likewise, Flanders’ dispersed urbanization and its supporting infrastructure is currently facing a number of complex urban questions. Here, a business-as-usual scenario fails to meet the needs of a growing population in a sustainable way, resulting in numerous unwanted effects such as traffic congestion, flooding, impending electricity shortages and ecological decrease. These crises, directly or indirectly linked to supportive infrastructural networks, have the potential to give rise to a new urban form: think of the Great Stink, a hygienic crisis in nineteenth-century London, urging the construction of a large-scale sewerage network underground, which also created a new system of public spaces above ground. Considering crises as leverage to reimagine urban environments, a global challenge such as a pandemic offers the opportunity to imagine long-term local change. In the particular case of Flanders, the current crisis uncovers the potential of existing spatial networks to shape a sustainable constellation of dispersed urbanization.

By starting from the inherent qualities of dispersed urbanization, one can start to imagine a number of exemplary, nodal interventions that are capable of addressing urban questions in a multiscalar way (addressing global challenges in local conditions) and/or interdisciplinary way (linking different types of networks). They are part of the collective layer of infrastructure, as an entry to rethink the reciprocal relations between human and land and thus inducing long-lasting effects of incidental crises. The aim of this exercise is not to introduce full-fledged solutions, but rather to provide a critical design reflection acknowledging the inherent potential of dispersion and exploring the possibilities to shape a more resilient and sustainable future constellation of the dispersed city.

Spatial networks can be considered the ‘lifelines’ or carriers of urbanity, as they support the way societal processes such as living and working are organized and vice versa. One can distinguish different types of infrastructural networks in the Flemish dispersed urbanization: territorial (rivers and creeks), mobilizing (canals, roads, and railways) and servicing (energy distribution, food production, sewage). It is clear that the carrying capacity of each of these networks is currently being exceeded and a tipping point has been reached. Infrastructural networks are either lacking (such as the envisaged construction of 25

SOPHIE LEEMANS (1996) obtained a Master’s in Architecture at KU Leuven Sint-Lucas Brussels campus where she graduated summa cum laude and was laureate of the Master’s programme. Her thesis ‘Adaptive Architecture and Flood Permitting Cities’ emphasized the positive impact of water infrastructure on daily life and received several awards. After gaining practical experience in the Berlin-based architecture and urban planning office TSPA, she is now a full-time PhD researcher at the Department of Architecture of KU Leuven. Her research is part of the All City/All Land Research Cell and focuses on the design potential of infrastructural networks to shape a more qualitative and sustainable dispersed urbanization in the Eurometropolis region (Kortrijk – Tournai – Lille).

restore natural floodplains

... as a base for micro-natural reserves shielded from future human intervention to enhance both biodiversity and flood resilience

complement lacking

foster local, self-sustaining

sewage network

(food) production cycles

... with small-scale water cleaning facilities such as reed beds to prevent pollution of the natural brook system and enhance independence from centralised service networks


... through making use of the inherent de­centralised productive potential of relatively large gardens adjacent to dwellings to enhance food security and sustainability

minimise cutting impact of

articulate local energy

enable flexible infill of existing

mobility networks

exchange networks

road infrastructure

... through permeable roadway as part of a regenerative strategy to (re)connect and restore soft tissue by making connections on a local scale

... as visible infrastructure raising awareness of its impact and topping up infrastructure with collective added value instead of a mere supportive, technical intervention


... to absorb evolving societal conditions and at the same time meet incidental spatial requirements in times of systemic shock and fulfil the adequate, needed function

To Punish or to Assist How do we React to Fellow Nationals or Foreigners Disobeying Social Distancing


Jasper Van Assche esponding to the Covid-19 pandemic, societies face the formidable challenge of developing sustainable forms of sociability-cum-social-­ distancing—maintaining social life while containing the virus and preventing new outbreaks. As has become clear in these past few months, governments are adopting a wide array of potentially effective confinement measures, often walking a tightrope between assistance (solidarity-based; e.g., infor­mation and sensitization campaigns) and retributive measures (punishment-based; e.g., penalty fees for citizens who disobey the regulations).

Yet, the uncontrolled spreading of the disease has divided public opinion as to which measures are best suited. We were inte­rested in what type of confinement measure people preferred, and whether people reacted differently when fellow nationals or foreigners disobeyed the coronavirus guidelines. Together with Dr Emanuele Politi (KULeuven), Prof Dr Karen Phalet (KULeuven) and Dr Pieter Van Dessel (UGent), I conducted an online experi­ ment.1 We invited 377 British citizens to read a scenario about a target group’s behaviour. Each respondent read one of four possible scenarios: 28

1 - fellow nationals (Britons) conforming to the British governmental corona­ virus guidelines; 2 - fellow nationals (Britons) deviating from the British govern­mental corona­ virus guidelines; 3 - foreigners (Italians) conforming to the Italian governmental corona­ virus guidelines, and 4 - foreigners (Italians) deviating from the Italian governmental coronavirus guidelines.

Participants were then asked to report their feelings towards the target national group (i.e., ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Britons or Italians), and also indicate their support for assistance measures (aimed at informing and educating the target group) and/or retributive measures (aimed at punishing the target group).

Seven hundred years ago, there was an increase in anti-Jew hatred during the plague of the Black Death. Nowadays, during the Covid-19 pandemic, scholars have noticed a rise in prejudice towards Asians (in other studies), and towards (disobeying) Italians (in our study).

In general, retributive measures were supported less than assistance measures, because such policies go against core democratic values (e.g., personal freedom). However, respondents who read news reports about normdeviating groups reported more negative emotions (e.g., anger, condemnation, disgust), which led to more support for retributive measures and less for assistance support. Interestingly, respondents who read about norm-violating foreigners showed the highest support for retributive

measures, indicating that people might blame foreigners for spreading the virus rather than fellow nationals who neglect hygiene standards and social distancing. These findings have important implications for how different national groups are evaluated during this pandemic. Italy was the first European country where Covid-19 hit hard, and was readily accused of spreading the virus around Europe. People also tend to present their own group in a better light than other groups. Hence, news about other Italians breaking ‘corona measures’ elicited very strong negative emotions among Britons. Furthermore, such emotions further translated into a stronger endorsement of punishment-based governmental decisions to contain the virus. The consequences of such attitudes towards foreigners should not be underestimated. As the Head of the United Nations, António Guterres, stated, the Covid-19 outbreak is unleashing “a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scaremongering”. Seven hundred years ago, there was an increase in anti-Jew hatred during the plague of the Black Death. Nowadays, during the Covid-19 pandemic, scholars have noticed a rise in prejudice towards Asians (in other studies), and towards (disobeying) Italians (in our study). We hypothesize that when governments blame foreign groups, they might opt for harsher confinement measures against incoming foreigners as well as against 29

their own citizens. These citizens might perceive such decisions as more legitimate, and potentially become more hostile towards foreigners. Such a negative spiral readily exacerbates tensions among groups in a JASPER VAN ASSCHE is a society. It is postdoctoral researcher therefore of at the Department of Developmental, the utmost Personality and Social importance to Psychology at Ghent avoid thinking University, and a in terms of lecturer at the Centre the ‘us-­versusfor Social and Cultural Psychology at the them’ divide. University of Leuven. His Our research main research interests team therefore are intergroup relations advocates (e.g., ethnic diversity policy makers and intergroup contact), individual differences to create a sense (e.g., ideology and of inclusive prejudice), and political togetherness attitudes (e.g., cynicism, and promote populism, and far-right collective party support). resilience and international solidarity. As an optimistic endnote, it seems that people endorse such solidarity-­ based measures to a greater extent than retributive measures, even for deviant foreigners. The ‘new normal’ way of living can be constructive, and sensitization campaigns can inform citizens on how to maintain social life while simultaneously containing the spread of the coronavirus. Time will tell whether or not such methods will be effective to fight future pandemics.  1

Van Assche, Jasper; Politi, Emanuele; Van Dessel, Pieter; Phalet, Karen. “To Punish or to Assist? Divergent Reactions to In-Group and Out-Group Members Disobeying Social Distancing.” British Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 59, no. 3, 2020, pp. 594-606.

Somewhere on the Silk Road Covid-19 is a crisis beyond doubt - which means mechanisms of shock doctrine - as described by Klein are acting upon the worlds as we - read into this what you want and dream about - without dogma of positive outcomes and non-violent faith keeping. Which geo - ideology is doubling - down right now the minds - media and more are filled - to the brim with single focus - making movement more - easy for certain powers?

M V d B

a summer night somewhere on the new silk road beneath a shiny silver moon / in a container city that was / more or less the size of Calais / before the crash whispers of young voices and a fluttering of sneakers on grit faster damnit / catch up / keep close to the pounding heartbeat with some quick slits of the pliers / and gone through the fence in an instant / out of the floodlights into the dim / corridors of metal boxes to hidden cargo the next morning / in a Confucianly designed office space / there is a manager with questions / why didn’t the system notify us / immediately / now the birds have scattered / no alarm / and this system is supposed to be state of the art / full recognition get Megvii on the line / those ching chongs / better have an explanation / we all could hang

M V d B1 is a contemporary artist working and living in Brussels. He’s a jack of all trades: active as a poet, researcher, theatre maker, and curator. For this piece he was inspired by the destruction of the Hong Kong democracy and the signing of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. 1


[beep / beep / beep / miaow / miaow / miaow] SAN ZI MAO PA DAO SHUNSHU ZU SAN / a young Asian man in a hoody and blazer appears on the screen / I am so sorry sir security expert san my Chinese is / interrupted / learn the language loser / MAO MAO MAO he counts the words on his fingers / three cats that’s the verdict / most likely lured by the aerosols released by yesterday’s shipment of salmon / once hailed by Norwegians as pink gold / European fish transformed into a staple of traditional sushi cuisine / all thanks to a clever marketing campaign / now just another market / dominated by those yellow squinty-eyed fuckers / what is it gin sputters the manager / gents people persons / that’s it / they cut a hole / breached a container / ripped open fillets and whole fish / meat everywhere / going off in the sun / rotting we have proof / a picture / made with the mass-produced smartphone of a nameless and flexible intern / the cheapest model / cats don’t act like that / qing kautau could we xiexie / the camera footage before annotation and recognition / with due respect / xiexie again / I know it’s abnormal / the manager stammers oh you are in trouble / white boy / the chink grins and bleeps out / the footage three bodies in nothing but sneakers running fast / zoom in all over their naked skin / a pattern of black lines and strange polygons flashing in the moonlight / algorithmic camouflage / heard some rumours about it / but never / the screen goes black / the manager looks at the intern / the intern looks back / you are the one who discovered this / he says clinging to his desk / I am sorry sir sorry is



one has a job at the delta works / the walls that keep

the water at bay / requiring continuous maintenance

they work in shifts / so now this one is snoring in bed

in a single-room flat / between concrete walls and low

ceilings / we’re on the eleventh floor and there is puke

on the elevator floor / in the corner / lives old Kathrine

who bought the flat in full when her husband died / in

the outbreak / windows on the corners / great harbour

view / their old house felt too big / so she sold it / can

you believe it / a house with a garden all around / next

door along the dimly lit corridor / the crazy cat couple

they’ve got nine of them and no life / working double

jobs to cover rent / litter and cat food / organic / they

are young / twenty-somethings / probably vegetarians

then I prefer old Kev / my left-door neighbour / used

to be a big shot academic / head full of crazy theories

never a dull moment / always an extra beer on hand

I do his shopping / healthy stuff too / not just alcohol

all the stuff actually / hasn’t left his room since normal

became new / still I shouldn’t complain / got a place

of my own / not like those poor souls / on lower floors

sharing what space they have left / with five six seven

eight / or even more / causing trouble / understandably

speak of the devil / with the buzz of drones / sirens in

the air / flickering with blue dots / here we go again / you

look deep into the window / see the police pulling up

like tiny black ants / all the way down / but they don’t enter

the tower / not this time / not now / as if like a miracle



Creating a Europe of Regions Cyril de Beun discourse has, at least in part, been adopted by regular media and the political mainstream.

In this essay, Cyril de Beun develops the thesis that further European integration can best be attained by replacing our current nation states with separate regions and city states, all united under a European flag.

And yet we must recognize that in reality globalization is not a transitory phenomenon. Rather than an elitist hobby horse, it is a historically rooted process, tied biologically to basic human curiosity. As science journalist Charles C. Mann has shown in his work 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, we can trace the historical roots of globalization back to the discovery of the Americas by Columbus. 1492 can accordingly be dubbed the ‘Year 0’ of globalization, giving rise to an unprecedented exchange of products, people, and ideas. This global revolution obviously generated some highly questionable practices and events such as large-scale slave trade and—of particular relevance to our present time—the spread of diseases. Nevertheless, these black pages did not simply originate in globalization itself. Although their effects were aggravated by it, globalization’s role as a positive ‘force multi­plier’ was infinitely stronger. Globalization processes have formed and continue to form the basis for the free dissemination of new ideas and innovations, a steady improvement of the global population’s health, and an unprecedented increase in prosperity. These trends have accelerated exponentially in the previous decades, with hundreds of millions of Asian citizens being lifted out of poverty in the past thirty years alone.

Covid-19 and Globalization If there is one thing the corona crisis has taught us Europeans, it is that national governments on our continent have proven their inherent ineffectiveness in dealing with the (coming) global crises of the twenty-first century. The rapid spread of the virus from China over the world and from Northern Italy through Europe has shown the negative side effects of globalization, notwithstanding its predominantly positive results over the past few centuries. In recent times, however, the radical wings on both sides of the political spectrum have managed to introduce a strong antiglobalization discourse into the public debate. Both the radical left and right seem to seize every opportunity to dismiss globalization as an ‘ideology’ propagated by and merely serving the interests of the ‘elites’. In the wake of the health and subsequent economic crisis, this critical 32

The Ineffective Crisis Management of European Nations Even if it were at all possible to halt or even reverse globalization, which is a highly unlikely possibility, there is no reason to assume that deglobalization would yield any positive effects. The corona crisis is a case in point. In its beginning stages, national governments—not just those in Europe—were hesitant in dealing with the rapidly ‘globalizing’ virus. While the munici­pal authorities in Wuhan, the epicentre of the crisis, were already well aware that the situation was running out of control, the threat of being accused of fearmongering by the central government in Beijing prevented their timely response. In Europe, too, national governments proved unable to respond with coherent and effective measures. And when they finally swung into action, they did so without properly consulting one another. This belated sense of urgency resulted in a plethora of nationalist reflexes that in hindsight come across as puerile, were it not for their painful consequences: even the tiniest of countries closed their borders, basing their decision on haughty criticisms of their neighbours’ coronavirus policies (conveniently ignoring the fact that there was no perfect approach for solving the impending crisis, once the containment of the virus had failed). A low point was arguably reached when news media started publishing rankings of contaminations and deaths by country. All the while, European citizens were suffering at the hands of haphazard policies conducted by their national (!) governments.

many countries showed reluctance to transfer power to the European Union, they were at the same time not too keen to delegate responsibility to the local level either. The entire situation exuded an embarrassing lack of coordination among member states.

What does this say about the legitimacy of nation states on our continent? Clearly, the diminishing effectiveness of national governments in Europe is delegitimizing the overwhelming power granted to those governments through their electoral systems. In other words, the dismal performance of nationally oriented policymaking no longer justifies the electoral mandate backing it, for in order to gain and maintain legitimacy a government’s effectiveness must match, and preferably even exceed, the power granted to it by its citizens. In Europe, this is clearly not the case.

A similar hotchpotch of improvisations could be witnessed during the economic slump caused indirectly by the medical crisis. Governments moved quickly to give financial support to businesses, cultural organizations, and other national sectors. But a well-directed and longterm European plan was conspicuously absent from the start. An economic relief package called Next Generation EU could only be agreed upon after fierce resistance from various member states had been overcome. The principal objection of these obstructive voices boiled down to concerns about a loss of sovereignty, not about the effectiveness of the plans themselves. While

Beyond a Europe of Nations: Integration and Regionalization

I would like to propose two solutions in tandem. The first one includes a political scale-up, which will accelerate the process of European integration. The ultimate aim would be to create a European state that is able to act with confidence on the world stage. The second 33

Globalization processes have formed and continue to form the basis for the free dissemination of new ideas and innovations, a steady improvement of the global population’s health, and an unprecedented increase in prosperity. solution would involve a concurrent delegation of powers to the local level of cities and regions.

But how can we achieve these aims with the inefficient national structures existing on our continent nowadays? As has happened so often in the past, the European Union was blamed for its assumed ineffectiveness during the initial stages of the corona crisis. It is worth noting, however, that the crisis was aggravated precisely because of the national states’ unwillingness to collaborate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was hardly any praise for the EU once it had managed to secure a vaccine portfolio of over 2 billion doses, to be distributed fairly among member states.1 These were, of course, eager to accept this bounty, seeing that they would never have been able to acquire the vaccines so efficiently and at so advantageous a price all by themselves.

After being confronted not only by the ineffectiveness, but also by the navel-gazing of Europe’s nation states, shouldn’t we direct our attention to more refined structures of governing on, say, a micro level? Structures that may very well enhance European integration and, on top of that, may function more smoothly within the context of a European state? Strikingly, for all the hesitant reactions of those at the helm of the member states, one level of governance performed quite well given the gravity of the situation: that of the cities and regions. Even though the virus has been transmitted on a global scale, the hot spots were concentrated in certain regions and metropolitan areas. Despite dealing with some disadvantages, most notably high infection rates in more densely populated areas such as cities, local governments generally proved to be more decisive in tackling

the crisis, accustomed as they were to micro­ management. In addition, contrary to their national govern­ments, these authorities put the ideal of European cooperation into practice, precisely at some of the most critical moments during the crisis. The German State of North Rhine-Westphalia, for instance, refused to close its borders with the Benelux countries, realizing that such a random move would be of no help whatsoever in managing local outbreaks of the coronavirus. In doing so, the state government acted counter to Germany’s national policy, which had already led to the closing of its borders with other neighbouring countries. Simultaneously, hospitals in North RhineWestphalia took in Belgian and Dutch Covid-19 patients to relieve the pressure on the healthcare systems of their neighbours.

Towards a Unified Europe of Regions

So, what lessons can be drawn from the corona crisis as far as the EU is concerned? First and foremost, we need to be aware of the absolute necessity to expand and deepen our collaboration on a European level. This is not a novel insight, yet it should be guided by a clear strategy, which is where problems generally occur. The majority of the Next Generation EU recovery funds, for instance, are meant to be allocated to the member states themselves, which will then further distribute them among their various crisis-ridden sectors. Thus, the principal issue is left unresolved: how can we protect and strengthen European workers, European industries, the European cultural sector in a more direct way? Paradoxical though it may seem, the path towards a unified and more decisive Europe can best be carved out at the 34

micro level of governance. We should realize that any future form of pan-European collaboration can only be successful if it is implemented on the level of individual regions and metropolitan areas. The advantages of such a system are evidently of a practical nature: we would be joining forces on our continent by leveraging the positive aspects of globalization, thus creating a synergetic effect; yet at the same time, individual regions and cities would be able to fine-tune policies in a manner that better suits their own wants and needs. National governments are less attuned to this type of refined decision-making: they are trapped in the vacuum between effective and efficient pan-European governance on the one hand and the hands-on, direct leadership of regions and cities on the other.

This combination of the macro and micro level may well turn out to be the winning formula of the twenty-first century, an era that has the potential to develop into the ‘century of the region’ as much as it will be the ‘century of the city’.2 This winning formula will enable Europe to successfully compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, to locally implement the European Green Deal initiatives, and to foster the distribution and integration of migrants, to name but a few examples. Crucially, it will increase public support for a unified Europe. In the past, there have been too many instances

of national governments playing the European peoples off against one another. Now is the time to dismantle these outdated structures and replace them with smaller-scale alternatives better representing what we actually are: regionally rooted, thinking as Europeans. The EU’s motto is In varietate concordia, United in diversity. Let us finally live up to this ideal: by fulfilling the dream of European unity, by aiming for genuine regional diversity; in short, by standing at the cradle of a ‘Europe of Regions’. When the time comes, I will be more than happy to get rid of my national passport in favour of a European one. How about you? detail/en/qanda_20_2467, 21 December 2020 (retrieved 6 January 2021).



The EU’s motto is In varietate concordia, United in diversity. Let us finally live up to this ideal: by fulfilling the dream of European unity, by aiming for genuine regional diversity; in short, by standing at the cradle of a ‘Europe of Regions’. 35

CYRIL DE BEUN works as a postdoctoral researcher in Modern German Literature and Literary Theory at KU Leuven. He took a PhD in Literature with a dissertation on the public speeches of German modernist writers, 18801938. His current research deals with changes in communication around 1800 (most notably the transition from rhetorical to interdiscursive language) and their impact on German literature between 1815 and the March Revolution of 1848. De Beun has a profound interest in geopolitical issues, and he is an ardent proponent of pan-European unity.

For the latter, see Benjamin Barber’s book If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. Yale University Press, 2013.

Towards an Ethics of Expert Communication Hugh Desmond As the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the globe, our daily environments were drastically altered. The dependable rhythms of work, family, and friends were shattered. In this state of uncertainty, we turned towards scientific experts as steady hands. Yet, as we did so, it became apparent how relatively minute alterations to the decisions of scientific experts could have an outsized impact on the lives of citizens. What guides the expert? Often the only guidance experts receive is to “speak truthfully”.1 Existing codes of conduct give scientists ethical guidance on publishing, supervising, or reviewing—but none of the major codes even mention the activity of giving expert advice to the public and policy makers.2 Yet, it has become clear that scientists, in giving expert advice, must exercise their own individual judgment beyond merely conveying the scientific state of the art. Does one emphasize the uncertainty of scientific findings? Or should one emphasize the potential dangers of the disease? These are difficult decisions, and the Covid-19 crisis has shown that, in times of acute crisis,

the societal need for actionable advice can be so great that scientists cannot avoid making these decisions. This essay proposes these decisions need to be guided by an ethics of expert communication in the post-pandemic world.

Expert Communication is Never Purely Scientific…

The basic premise of this proposal, namely that dispensing scientific expertise involves considerable individual discretion, is not necessarily obvious. Consider the standard unit of scientific communication, namely, the scientific paper. In this communication format, the sender (author) can assume considerable background knowledge, and can assume that the receiver (reader) will be able to interpret statements about the relative uncertainty of results. Conclusions are never certain, and are only ever with caution and caveats, whether HUGH DESMOND is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Antwerp and a postdoctoral researcher at the IHPST in Paris (CNRS/Université Paris 1 Sorbonne). He works on a spectrum of issues spanning philosophy of science, moral psychology, social epistemology, and ethics.


in terms of limiting assumptions, confidence intervals, or effect sizes. By contrast, when expert advice is given, the target audience is the public, media, or politicians. The focus is on actionability: the public and politicians want to know what needs to be done. They do not need or want the level of detail and caution one can find in scienti­fic communications. This means that the expert must not only translate the scientific state of the art into terms that non-experts can understand, but must also make decisions about which uncertain dangers and which uncertain opportunities to emphasize. Should one emphasize the potential benefits of mouth-masks, or rather the false sense of security they can bring? Should one advise that rules on the sizes of groups are very strict, or should one allow deviations as long as people follow common sense? Should one emphasize the possible dangers of the worst-case scenario—to jolt the public into action—or only of the most-likely scenario, to prevent unnecessary panic? These are not purely scientific decisions, but complex ones that involve weighing the science against multiple social factors as well as ethical values such as respect for autonomy.

This brief essay has the positive message that some of the dynamics of distrust could be pre-empted by shifting the There is a danger in acknow­ focus from demanding trust of ledging the ethical aspect of the public (in virtue of scientific expert communication. We live in a society where scientists enjoy expertise) towards demonstra­ting high levels of public trust—a stark trustworthiness. Scientific experts should take the initiative in contrast with the trust placed in showing how exactly they have politicians. To admit that scienextracted take-home messages tific experts must employ indivi­ dual discretion seems tantamount from the state of the art, and to admitting scientific experts are turning this into actionable advice. This allows non-­experts biased and political. However, as a scientific com- to participate in their reasoning, thus both pre-­empting feelings munity, we must confront this of alienation and strengthening challenge inherent to scientific a democratic public discourse. expertise head on. Currently there is arguably a greater danger in not acknowledging the disTowards an Ethics of Expert cretional side of expert comCommunication munication. The increased role of scientific experts in political This ‘ethics of expert communi­ decision-making has revived cation’ would be a new dimenconcerns about democracy being sion of scientific integrity, undermined by paternalism and stipulating what it means to technocracy. More worryingly, a give expert advice in a way that sizeable minority of citizens now is as professional and integrous has sympathy for conspiracy as possible. It is well acknow­ theory and science denial, often ledged that research and teachamong those who feel alienated ing activities should conform to and left behind by society as a general principles of integrity; whole.3 This deep distrust of scinow the Covid-19 pandemic has ence involves attri­buting various demonstrated how expertise activities also need guidance by nefarious motives to scientific norms of scientific integrity. experts, such as collusion with This would result in a short large corporations for financial code of conduct that could be of gain or population control.4 In practical use to science experts. this context, claims by scientists The code would be the result or politicians to be “merely folof collaborative reflection. For lowing the science” are not only not believed, but also interpreted instance, it could contain at least the following principles: as a cover for immoral action.

… and Yet It Can Be Wholly Trustworthy

1 2 3 4

’Neill, Onora, A Question of Trust. The BBC Reith Lectures 2002. O Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

esmond, Hugh. “Expert Communication and the Self-Defeating Codes for Scientific D Ethics”. American Journal of Bioethics, 2021. DOI:10.1080/21507740.2020.1830874 arson, Heidi J. Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start -- and Why They Don’t Go Away, Oxford L University Press, 2020.

ouglas, Karen M., Joseph E. Uscinski, Robbie M. Sutton, Aleksandra Cichocka, D Turkay Nefes, Chee Siang Ang, and Farzin Deravi. “Understanding Conspiracy Theories.” Political Psychology vol. 40 (S1), 2019, pp. 3–35.



Seek to speak appropriately. Public communication and even media appearances should be approached with the same scrupulousness as ethical deliberation. Experts’ words have significant consequences and so must be weighed carefully.


Acknowledge the balance between scientific and public service ideals. In choosing what to communicate, the scien­tific expert must weigh the needs of the scientific service ideal and the public service ideal.


Be transparent in your reasoning. In order to minimize the probability that the expert’s message or advice will be experienced as paternalistic by the public, it is important that experts communicate not just the conclusions of their deliberation, but also the most important steps in their reasoning. In this way they show how their communication is justified, even if it turns out in the future that they were wrong.

Of course, the roots of distrust undoubtedly lie at least in part in conflicting political and financial interests, and hence one should not hope that even a fully-fledged ethics of expert communication can dispel all distrust in experts. Nonetheless, we should strive to be as irreproachable as possible in expert communication, and one way would be to demonstrate trustworthiness. This seems like a small, eminently achievable step towards increasing trust in these polarized times.


Challenge nr. 1 Pandemic Preparedness A Future Perspective on Corporate Transdisciplinary Learning Networks in Academia


Karin Hannes about twenty years temporarily relieve t is june 23, the year 2050. i ago, somewhere in parents from their will earn my emeritus status january 2030, universities care duties at home. Yet, in about two months. This collectively decided to the student team had morning, a colleague told me that stop paying professors failed to mention in their it had taken her three years of to coordinate bachelor, cultivating, coaching and intellectual mission statement that they master, and PhD investment, but that her intellectual used upcycled materials. programmes. This partly According to the stakeholder, effort had finally paid off. One of explains the financial this significantly deteriorated her transdisciplinary student situation my colleague the quality of the product. teams had managed to sell an now finds herself in. “How could I have missed it in idea to a private business partner This decision was my team’s report?” the professor for renting out temporary office motivated by a smallsighed. I replied: “Come on! This is booths. The team had already scale ‘pandemic the year 2050! Even junk material pitched their flexi-space concept preparedness’ initiative is ultra-advanced nowadays. Why to three other companies but from a diligent female would it pose any threat to the safety failed to convince the board virologist in the year of the children?” Anyway, a new team members. I congratulated 2020 (commonly of students had been assigned to the her on this achievement. referred to as the challenge ‘re-inventing the workspace of The news came at the right Covid-19 pandemic the future’ she was coaching. I wished her time. The professor was year). The initiative good fortune in dealing with these legal close to bankruptcy after an was picked up by issues and logged back into my learning economic stakeholder sued university policy environment, where my own student team one of last year’s student makers because was discussing how to restore the food teams: they had developed they regarded it production, consumption, and distribution a robotically driven swing as a potentially chain in a city nearby. system for children to 38

Figure 1: Challenge nr. 2 Inclusive Cities; Discussing how to achieve a zero-waste rate and work towards inclusivity from an urban food perspective in the online environment ‘Cantina’.

useful model for collaborative student and research work. In less than two months, the virologist had managed to set up a transdisciplinary Covid-19 expert cell to respond to the pandemic challenge and issued back to a system in which students a call to all students to commit would be instructed with suboptimal themselves to developing video productions, writing disposable innovative, scientifically sound assignments, and chasing grades solutions, scenarios, and policies rather than engaging with the for dealing with Covid-19. The issues of concerns presented by collective energy released from her initiatives generated multiple the lecturers. At best, passing such a course provided access ideas, lines of argument, and to yet another year of ‘sitting practical solutions that caught and receiving’ that would only the attention of the university hinder the development of management board, societal the students’ lateral thinking stakeholders, and funders alike. capacity. The Covid-19 pandemic Little did the female virologist know that the pilot project changed the role of students, This example has had a sincere in which she brought smart too. It activated their personal impact on the way tertiary minds together in a pandemic responsibility, not only by educational environments are preparedness initiative taking control over their own now organized. The Covid-19 would slowly steer the whole educational trajectory, but also pandemic that swept across the university in a different by responding to the needs of world in the period 2019-2021 was direction. It released the fellow citizens: people in poverty, not only a wake-up call for the collective, intellectual in isolation, in pain or despair. It virologist, but for all professors. illustrated that most students were energy and imaginary Going back to education as usual power needed to provide easy to activate if the conditions no longer seemed a viable option. better answers. Many of us were reluctant to move were favourable for societal action.

The professor was close to bankruptcy after an economic stakeholder sued one of last year’s student teams.


it is June 23, the year 2050. My involvement in the pandemic preparedness initiative from the female virologist still brings back good memories. I was a mid-career enthusiastic professor back then, who volunteered for a coaching position in the transdisciplinary my university has become a of students initially enter a honours programme to support factory of ideas in response to transdisciplinary bubble with researchers and students in societal challenges. Students different disciplinary interests. successfully connecting the dots have turned into change The coaches’ job is to further between expert advice and the spark these interests and mentor makers engaged in immersive various pieces of information learning-by-doing. Over students into developing found on the world wide web. the years, the university knowledge and skills based For the past twenty years, I have stopped giving coaches in humanities, science, and relied on specialist input from financial incentives for the technology or biomedical my co-coaches, all of them former work they do in developing professors who had been stripped of sciences. In working their elegant, responsible, and way through the educational their titles, due to this new mantra sustainable answers for the in our universities: equal intelligence programme, they specialize progress of humanity. The in certain domains. However, and the power of collaboration. This transdisciplinary bubbles’ they also join a common will be my last year of involvement core objective is still to transdisciplinary track as a coach in the universities of education in which challenge-based portfolio project. we train them in the use I am not sure how many of these of collaborative virtual portfolios are currently circulating, platforms, system thinking, or how many transdisciplinary KARIN HANNES is associate professor at the Faculty of co-creative research, grand bubbles are still active, but it must Social Sciences, KU Leuven, theories and research be close to 200 given the number Belgium and coordinates the paradigms, agent-based of staff members and students research group SoMeTHin’K modelling, participatory involved. And the number of (Social, Methodological research, and co-creation. challenges submitted by citizens, and Theoretical Innovation/ Kreative). She evaluates, From this know­ledge base, societal stakeholders, economic improves, and develops we encourage them to build stakeholders, researchers, policy qualitative research methods equitable and resilient makers, and professionals keeps for use in a multiplicity of societies, develop their Young on growing. different fields, including Person’s Guide for the Future, urban development, health humanities, the public art and develop models for managing I am one of the steering group design sector, communityinfection diseases in conflict members who judge these based research, and sustainable zones, design the future challenges for suitability and development. She specializes of dairy farms or develop applicability in an academic, in arts-based, place-based, and sustainable and inclusive educational context. When multisensory designs as well as qualitative evidence synthesis cities. The more knowledge the this is done, coaches can as a meta-review technique. Her students gain over the years, vote challenges into their group works from an inclusive, the more responsibility they portfolio, according to academic activism perspective are given in coaching younger personal preferences and engages in creative research generations of students entering and expertise available dissemination. She partners the Institute of the Future, KU Leuven. the transdisciplinary bubbles. in their team. Groups 40

move an idea from an my transdisciplinary early stage of incubation bubble. By now, it should to a stage of maturation, be clear that I owe my while at the same time success as a coach to a securing the theoretical and select group of smart, methodological grounding and motivated individuals: technical robustness of both clever and bright students procedures used and products, and streetwise people with programmes or lines of creative, innovative ideas. argument delivered. Financial Successful teams include conditions in universities have both in-depth and lateral been aligned with the level of thinkers. So obviously, the uncertainty, agility, volatility, and coaches compete for the complexity that characterizes best students to enter their most of the challenges included transdisciplinary bubble. in the portfolios. When my corporate student teams perform There are times when I catch well in responding to a challenge, myself thinking about the ‘little entrepreneurs’ to society, it pays my bills and at the same days when things were neither do I consider myself time, it might buy my students a simple. We were professors a supporter of the corporate job. Nowadays, I am compensated paid to teach, research, business logic that slowly for my intellectual input into the write reports or books and infiltrated our educational process. I can claim approximately peer review the work of system. My job was to create ten percent of the earnings our colleagues. We chased change makers; people who made or added value achieved by research grants and impact can take stock of our uncertain the organizations, companies, factors to boost our scholarly future. I have completed this institutes, or collectives that opt in careers. I mean, what were we mission. on responses my teams developed. thinking back then? That we In theory, it might only take one could really make a difference acknowledgements good idea from one promising this way? For new generations I wish to acknowledge corporate student team to earn of students, it no longer makes the teams of coaches and a lifelong living. In practice, I sense. Ancient labels such as students involved in the would need a vast number of tenure tracks, doctorates, and Transdisciplinary Honours ideas that have reached a stage master degrees are no more than Programme KU Leuven over the of maturation before I would a ghost from the past. They have past years for their inspiring earn my pension. After all, I been replaced by a project-driven responses to existing and must share the income with logic, wherein success is measured emerging societal challenges co-coaches contributing to in terms of the quality, likeability, and illuminating moments the portfolio of challenges in applicability, meaningfulness and of discussion for growth. popularity of innovative solutions Special thanks to Anne-Mieke and lines of argument proposed. As Vandamme, Andreas De an (almost) emeritus, I look back on Block, Karel Van Acker, Griet a diverse and interesting career. Ceulemans, Anne Snick, and I encourage my university into Jorge Nova Blanco for the adopting an experimental, relentless energy they have open, and playful attitude donated to the programme, towards transdisciplinary its journal, and the further forms of education. I have development of the Institute for never considered it my the Future.  job to deliver ready-made

Ancient labels such as tenure tracks, doctorates, and master degrees are no more than a ghost from the past.

My job was to create change makers; people who can take stock of our uncertain future.


Nicolas Baeyens (Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp) is a visual artist who explores the identity and cyclic transformability of artworks. He questions the material nature of an artwork by looking at it as a falsifiable carrier of an immaterial message that is being shaped and reshaped by the memory of the beholder.

Laura Vandenbosch (KU Leuven) studies the dynamics of media socialization in the well-being of adolescents. Using an interdisciplinary perspective and a wide range of research methods she attempts to understand how entertainment and social media content influence young people in the area of depression symptoms, choice of study, body image, and performance pressure.

Caroline Masquillier (UAntwerpen) studies the HIV epidemic in South Africa and Belgium from a sociological perspective. For example, she analyzed how community-­based support may contribute to the care for people living with HIV. She founded the platform for creative scientific communication FIELD, where she worked on an exhibition and documentary about her research.

1 APRIL 2020 - 31 MARCH 2025



Roosmarijn Vandenbroucke (UGent and VIB) studies how the communication between body and brain takes place under healthy circumstances and in cases of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, with the aim of identifying new strategies for treatment. Based on her knowledge of the blood-brain barrier she and her team study new methods for bringing drugs into the brain more efficiently.

Joris Vandendriessche (KU Leuven) is an historian of medi­ cine and science who studies how knowledge is arrived at and how it is disseminated. Who had access to knowledge in the past? How did scientists deal with each other’s work? With his historical view of the culture of publication and the relationship between religion, ideology, and science, he reflects on today’s scientific endeavours.


Arne Smeets (KU Leuven, Radboud University Nijmegen) conducts research into fundamental mathematical structures at the intersection of algebra, geometry, and number theory. Diophantine problems are often easily formulated, but to solve them we need to develop new, modern mathematical tools based on recent insights gained in arithmetic geometry.

Sophie de Buyl (VUB) studies the dynamics and predictability of biological networks at various scales. With her team, she attempts to identify functional structures in biological networks by creating models based on large quantities of data. To this end, she uses non-linear dynamic systems, statistical physics, and information theory.

Tine Destrooper (UGent) studies how societies can deal with a legacy of violent conflict and large-scale human rights violations. She specifically explores the question of what role victims can play in setting up tribunals, truth commissions, and other mechanisms aimed at avoiding a recurrence of the conflict.

Sarah Verhulst (UGent) is an electronics and acoustics engineer who does inter­ disciplinary research into the mechanical and neural basis of human hearing (and its impairment). She develops innovative technologies concerning hearing, speech recognition, and acoustics, such as speed tests for hearing impairment and algorithms for hearing devices and hearables of the future.

Bio engineer Sammy Verbruggen (UAntwerpen) studies, within catalytic technology, how sunlight can be used directly in various environmental and energy applications. Using a multidisciplinary approach, he converts fundamental research of lightsensitive nanoparticles into concrete applications for air purification, hydrogen production, sensors, and self-cleaning materials.

Artist Kevin Trappeniers creates visual and physical work that oscillates between theatre and visual art, which he prepares during long periods of research. He moves freely between different art disciplines, mixing them in both theatre and public space. His work focuses on human presence and absence, identity and spatiality, and interhuman relations in today’s society.

Bert Vercnocke (KU Leuven) searches for the building blocks of the universe. As a theoretical physicist, he and his team study black holes and cosmology within string theory. He links the theo­retical predictions that extend Einstein’s theory of relativity to the latest observations as obtained by, for example, gravitational waves.

Christina Stuhlberger (LUCA School of Arts, KU Leuven) is a documentary filmmaker with a particular interest in the poetry of exchange in cinema. She studies the documentary interview as a cinematic strategy for negotiating equality and expressing ethical considerations.

Lara Pivodic (VUB) studies, from an international perspective, how health care and social policies around care may contribute to a good-quality final stage of life and a good death for the elderly. Using research methods from both medical and social sciences she studies the final years and months in the life of elderly people in various countries, evaluating the effects of palliative care programmes on patients, loved ones, and caregivers.

Kim De Veirman (VUB) is a bio medic who studies new, personalized treatments for patients with haematological cancers. Using nano bodies—tiny proteins that are present in the blood of camelids— and immunotherapy (including CAR-T-cell therapy) she attempts to combat residual cancer cells. Her focus is on translational cancer research with the aim of improving both diagnosis and treatment of haematological cancers. Loes Meeussen (KU Leuven & Thomas More) studies socio-psychological processes of inequality: on the one hand, inequality in the roles of men and women in work and family life, on the other hand, inequality in culturally diverse organizations and schools. How do people deal with the existing stereotypes about their group? And what characterizes inclusive contexts in which everyone can function optimally?

Kurt Bertels (KU Leuven - LUCA School of Arts Campus Lemmens) is a saxophone player. Through his research he reconstructs the nineteenth- and early-­twentieth century saxophone practice. For this informed performance practice, he makes use of historical instruments, sound recordings, manuscripts, and instrument methods. Within saxology, his research opens up new perspectives for the saxophone practice, for the— Belgian—history, and for the role of commissioned works in saxophone culture.

1 APRIL 2021 - 31 MARCH 2026



Sandra Van Puyvelde (UAntwerpen and University of Cambridge) does research into the evolution of bacteria, more specifically the pathogens Salmonella and Escherichia coli. She studies both the effect of evolution on the type of infections caused by these bacteria, how they spread, and how they become resistant to antibiotics. She does so by combining methods from bio informatics and molecular microbiology.

Lieke van Deinsen (KU Leuven) studies the public image of scholars and writers from an interdisciplinary perspective. She specifically looks at the struggle of early modern female intellectuals to meet the—predominantly male—idealtypical image of scholarship. Analysing their visual and textual portraits, it becomes apparent how these women introduced alternative role models. Her research makes a historical contribution to the topical debate on diversity.

Chris Burtin (UHasselt) studies the importance of fitness and motion behaviour in patients suffering from serious lung diseases, such as COPD and lung cancer. He looks into what remedial interventions may lead to the most optimal improvement in life quality, relieve of symptoms, and decrease of morbidity in these patients in both the short and long term.


All current members of the Young Academy Belgium (Flanders) - Orhan Agirdag, Frederik Anseel, Nicolas Baeyens, Ann Bessemans, Camilla Bork, Rose Bruffaerts, Didier Caluwaerts, Elke Cloots, Sophie de Buyl, Katelijne De Corte, Lars De Laet, Jozefien De Leersnyder, Dave De ruysscher, Bert De Smedt, Frederik De Wilde, Ugo Dehaes, Tine Destrooper, Heleen Dewitte, Marjan Doom, Lendert Gelens, Vincent Ginis, Joke Goris, Lynda Grine, Kristien Hens, Lodewijk Heylen, Athar Jaber, Lies Lahousse, Damya Laoui, Steven Latré, Silvana Mandolessi, Caroline Masquillier, Frank Merkx, Kris Myny, Michelle Plusquin, Magaly Rodríguez García, Amr Ryad, Arne Smeets, Kevin Smets, Evelien Smits, Bram Spruyt, Kevin Trappeniers, Alexander van Nuijs, Birgit Van Puymbroeck, Beatrijs Vanacker, Laura Vandenbosch, Roosmarijn Vandenbroucke, Joris Vandendriessche, Christophe Vandeviver, Karel Vanhaesebrouck, Sofie Verbrugge, Sammy Verbruggen, Bert Vercnocke, Sarah Verhulst, Bart Vermang, Lien Verpoest, Bram Verschuere, Katrien Verveckken, Sylvia Wenmackers, Nele Witters, Nele Wynants

Barbora Wouters (VUB) is a research professor in geo-archaeology. She specializes in the microscopic study of early mediaeval cities in the Low Countries and Viking cities in Scandinavia. In addition, she contributes to public archaeology in, for example, the magazine Ex situ and advocates equal opportunities in the fields of archaeology and academia.

Céline Gillebert (KU Leuven) studies the neuro-psychological effects of non-congenital brain damage. It can not only lead to partial paralysis or loss of sight but also to changes in cognition, behaviour, and personality. In order to better understand these disorders and mini­ mize their impact on the patients’ daily lives, she and her team are developing advanced measuring tools and rehabilitation protocols.

Fallible In Defence of a Fallible Science Science C

emy’s d a c A ung The Yo festo i n a M rona o C t s o P


ovid-19 put more pressure on scientists than ever before. The speed at which the corona virus struck forced virologists and researchers from related disciplines to take on a visible

public role at a time when the scientific knowledge about this new infectious disease was limited. They captured the pandemic in numbers, but were also asked questions about unknown aspects of the affliction or about the future course of the epidemic, which they couldn’t possibly answer with the swiftness expected of them. In addition, they were not only advising politicians behind the scenes but were also asked to clarify the policy measures that were taken, in the media. In the process, the boundaries between science and politics sometimes became blurred. Scientists were also faced with the limits of their own 46

expertise. For example, the analysis of the corona epidemic as a medical and social problem required a multidisciplinary approach in which, for instance, the importance of the role of (motivational) psychologists was only recognized late and not without difficulty. At the same time, the virus also exposed the boundaries of science, of measuring, counting, and analysing, while demonstrating that thorough research required time. The loss of life and the experiences of the lockdown were after all widely accompanied with feelings of deprivation, discomfort, and loneliness— feelings that not only needed

to be ‘measured’ but also to be shared, processed, and articulated. More so, in such times the need for art and culture became apparent, but this sector was ignored during the first stage of the crisis. How does the general public see all this? The Science Barometer 2020 showed that among the general public trust in science has increased since the beginning of the corona crisis, if only slightly. No doubt the successful development of vaccines will further strengthen this trust. Many people regard the corona vaccines, and rightly so, as an outstanding accomplishment of biomedical science, building on decades of research. At the same time, this trust is fragile. More than a few people have questions about the safety of the vaccines that were developed in such short time. All sorts of conspiracy theories are circulating on social media. Advancing scientific insights are sometimes seen as contradictory. Moreover, the role of pharmaceutical companies in the production and distribution of vaccines clouds the ideal image of a disinterested practising of science for the common good, as economic motives also enter the picture.

Debate is an innate aspect of science. Even more so: debate is a necessity of life for science.

Many people regard the corona vaccines, and rightly so, as an outstanding accomplishment of biomedical science, building on decades of research. At the same time, this trust is fragile. What lessons are to be learnt by young scientists from this ‘stress test’ for science? The Young Academy aspires to start the post-corona era with a plea for a widely supported, ‘fallible’ science. It defends science as a community of (fallible) people seeking truthful knowledge, a well-functioning community that—precisely because its results are subject to continual critical revision— is our best guarantee for reliable knowledge. At the same time, science operates through mechanisms that we can and must continuously question and improve, while allowing it to function at its own pace.

How Science Works

Debate is an innate aspect of science. Even more so: debate is a necessity of life for science. After all, reliable knowledge is only produced thanks to critically debating and evaluating the results of research. However, this need for debate and continuous reflection is not always easy to understand for the general public and this is partly due to how this aspect is presented in the media—or rather, is not. On the one hand, the media— having to operate within a 47

commercial logic—sometimes opt for a ‘false balance’ with regard to issues about which there is broad consensus within the scientific community by also providing a platform for dissenting opinions or the sensational claims of individuals. This neglects the healthy, mutual criticism among equal discussion partners. On the other hand, in public space research is often presented as—ever newer— ‘facts’, ‘numbers’, and ‘curves’. This sheds insufficient light on the fact that these are ‘only’ representations of the collected data, the interpretation of which is open to debate. Can these scientific ‘facts’ provide answers to, for example, the doubts about vaccination against corona or the misinformation contained in conspiracy theories? Up to a point, they can. However, in her book Why Trust Science? the American historian of science Naomi Oreskes states that piling on facts to refute anti-scientific claims may be counterproductive. After all, those who spread misinformation operate upon the premise that accepted scientific knowledge can most definitely be contested, also publicly. Those who counter this with more facts or defend

facts as being facts, conform to that premise, says Oreskes. It is therefore better to change the framing of the debate itself. This can be achieved, for example, by exposing the motives— economic, cultural, or other— behind the argumentation. Or by better explaining how science works and why we can reasonably trust science. The latter approach starts with an inconvenient truth: the process by which we arrive at scientific knowledge is rather ‘messy’, as it requires constant debate and revision. After all, science is practised by people and therefore it is fallible. The road from an idea, via study or experiment and checks to publication and, in some cases, clinical application is extremely complex. Frequently, different scientists arrive at different

interpretations of results. They have their doubts, dismiss elements, correct hypotheses, set up a new study, and so on. In exceptional cases, ethical or deontological rules are violated in the process, but in the main are respected. In addition, in reviewing scientific articles and projects numerous criteria and preferences are at play. But there is also good news: in general, scientific knowledge has proven to be reliable in the long term. It is precisely thanks to the continuous critical questioning of each other’s ideas that scientists ‘as well as is humanly possible’ manage to guarantee and safeguard the quality of science. In order to arrive at valid knowledge, science relies on the collaboration with and review by peers (i.e., other scientists


Real innovation, especially in the post-corona era, requires combining the knowledge, observations, and input from both scientific and nonscientific disciplines. with relevant expertise). This mechanism may at times falter but it has proven its merit more than ever in the fight against Covid-19. As in other societal domains, the pandemic has shown that the importance of collaboration, also in science, can hardly be overestimated. Without fear of exaggerating, we may state that science has outdone itself by developing a vaccine in record time, also thanks to the simultaneous roll-out of the various research stages and related checks. Contrary to previous health crises and in dealing with other global problems, since the beginning of this crisis scientists all over the world, significantly and in the spirit of open science, have shared their data and observations disinterestedly, across institutional and national borders. Yet, at the same time, we regret the lack of such transparency by governments and Big Pharma regarding the global pricing, distribution, and (uneven) accessibility of vaccines.

Openness Builds Trust The Covid-19 epidemic was a stress test for both society and science. The Young Academy wishes to act on the insights gathered thus far. Now that the post-corona era will hopefully dawn soon, we young scientists want to fully engage in strengthening an open scientific community. On the one hand, for us this means adopting an open attitude internally, in how scientists interact with each other and enter into dialogues across disciplinary boundaries. On the other hand, we also aim for more openness towards all those who have a stake in scientific research, feel engaged with it, and/or are keenly interested in it. In this we stress the importance of various insights contributing to the solution of complex societal issues. An open interdisciplinary dialogue allows for bringing together perspectives from different branches of science. The result is more than just the sum of these perspectives. But interdisciplinarity goes further, beyond the boundaries of professionalized science. To be sure, science defines the methodology by which to arrive at reliable knowledge. But at the same time, society requires a broader view of the issues people are struggling

with. We have that experience in the Young Academy too: as an interdisciplinary meeting place it is not only populated by scientists but by artists too. Real innovation, especially in the post-corona era, requires combining the knowledge, observations, and input from both scientific and nonscientific disciplines. This creative dynamic can only be realized in full if knowledge is freely accessible. The Young Academy therefore wholeheartedly supports a robust ‘open science’ policy, by which preferably not just

Being aware of a fallible—and precisely therefore reliable—science represents to us a guarantee for the successful functioning of science in the society of the future. 49

publications appear in ‘open access’. The data on which these publications are based should be shared generously as well, and making them available should be appreciated without taking anything away from the continued importance of interpreting research results. Today, more than ever, science concerns everyone. Citizens keep a close track of scientific developments through the media. Some even contribute to large-scale projects as ‘citizen scientists’. Being stakeholders, patients have a clear interest in the outcome of medical research. Politicians, policymakers, and actors from industry conduct a dialogue with scientists in determining the research agenda. We conclude with a call to make all of these actors more aware of the process that all scientific research goes through, including the methodological difficulties involved, the time it takes, and the unsolved questions that inevitably remain. Being aware of a fallible—and precisely therefore reliable—science represents to us a guarantee for the successful functioning of science in the society of the future.

Young Academy of Belgium (Flanders)

Joined Forces Against Covid-19 In March and April 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic and drastic measures struck, the Young Academy took various initiatives to tackle the societal impact of the virus.

Monitoring and connecting bottom-up initiatives in Belgium to design and build emergency ventilators and supplies (which fortunately were not needed in Belgium).

#Covid Campus Crowdsourcing methods for a rapid transition to distance teaching and telework with help from many academics on social media, resulting in an online overview document #CovidCampus.

Translating into Dutch a Medium article by Tomas Pueyo on the need for rapid action.




Gathering volunteers from the Belgian scientific community into a Slack environment “Mitigate Corona”.

Co-founding the taskforce “Vlaanderen Helemaal Digitaal” of the Flemish Government, which connected providers of digital solutions with companies, organizations, and governments that were facing new challenges.

On Thursday 19 November 2020, the Young Academy organized an online inspiration event on the involvement of stakeholders in research. This is the theme of an internal working group, of which the members are organizing focus groups and preparing a report with guidelines. Involving patients in medical research has become relatively well established, but we wanted to explore the advantages and risks of extending this practice to other fields of study. In the context of the current pandemic, for instance, it seems that every citizen is a stakeholder. For the event, we invited our own stakeholders to participate in various ways: by entering the competition on life after the pandemic, by participating in the panel, and more tradionally - by attending the event and asking questions. If you missed it, you can see an overview in the sketchnotes or check out relevant sections of the recording on https://

The Young Academy thanks all academics and members of other organizations who helped in some way! 50


The Unequal Impact of Covid-19 in Academia and What to Do About It JOZEFIEN DE LEERSNYDER AND MEMBERS OF THE GENDER WORKING GROUP

The corona crisis has hit many people hard, but not everyone equally. As an academic community, we are quite privileged as compared to other groups in our society – no jobs are threatened, we already have quite some experience with working online and for most of us, flexibility and autonomy are core aspects of our jobs. However, the impact of the past and current Covid-19 period is not the same for everyone within academia: it disproportionately affects academics (m, f, x) with care responsibilities and/or high teaching loads, which are more often taken up by women. As a result, the Covid-19 crisis threatens to exacerbate the existing (gender) inequality in academia.

National and international data on both junior (pre- and postdocs) and senior (PI’s) academics (collected in the summer of 2020) showed that about 70% of them experienced a negative impact of the Covid-19 crisis on their usual research time; the remaining 30%, however, experienced no (9%) or even a positive (21%) impact. This negative impact was much more severe for those academics (m, f, x) who reported to have care-duties at home. Especially parents of (several) young children (age 0-11) experienced a severe drop in their available research time, most likely because many

day-care facilities and schools were closed or required homeschooling for several months.

A similar disproportionately negative impact on research Graph 1: Impact on Research Time 100 80 % respondents

Covid’s unequal impact


time can be expected for academics with a heavy teaching load – or those who took over some courses from colleagues with many careduties – since the shift to online teaching requires a lot of extra coordination and extra work in terms of rethinking didactic approaches, tools and sometimes even the content of a course.

Why would Covid-19 exacerbate gender inequality?

40 20 0 negative impact

no impact

positive impact

Source: Myers et al., Nature in Human Behavior (2020)


Graph 1 show the Covid-19 impact on researchers regardless of their gender. Yet, there are reasons to suspect that the negative impact on female academics by the Covid-19 crisis

Graph 2: Average Decrease of Research Time in relation to Number of Dependants has partner has 0-5 year old dependent has 6-11 year old dependent has 12-15 year old dependent has 16-65 year old dependent has >65 year old dependent has >1 dependent -40%





Graph 3: Average Decrease of Research Time in relation to Number of Dependants for women has partner has 0-5 year old dependent has 6-11 year old dependent has 12-15 year old dependent has 16-65 year old dependent has >65 year old dependent has >1 dependent -40%





Source: Myers et al., Nature in Human Behavior (2020)

is larger because, on average, they take up more caring and teaching tasks than men.

Supporting this idea, a diary study of the VUB among the general Flemish population showed that women spent on average 13 hours a week more time on care duties during the lockdown in the spring of 2020 than before. In contrast, men reported on average more leisure time than before and did not feel hindered in their work by the presence of their children. These figures suggest

that care duties were mostly taken up by mothers in Flemish households – something that is also reflected in the fact that 70% of the 265,000 parents who took ‘corona parental leave’ were indeed women.

Although we should be careful to assume that the gender dynamics that are at play within the larger population are exactly reproduced in the subpopulation of academics, the international study on PI’s by Myers and colleagues shows that the decrease in research 53

time was larger for female than for male PI’s, even if they have a similar number of dependents to take care of. Graph 3 shows the average decrease of research time for female researchers – a decrease that easily adds up to 40% – in comparison to the average across all (m, f, x) researchers (dark red lines).

All in all, the careers of female academics may be harmed more by the Covid-19 crisis than those of their male colleagues. First indices of the exacer­ bation of already existing gender inequalities during and after the Covid-lockdown are now visible across different ‘performance-indicators’ and academic disciplines. For instance, three databases with registered-reports (n = 14,000) found that the number of research projects registered by female PI’s was significantly lower in March and April 2020 than in the same period in 2019. In addition, female researchers are underrepresented in Covid-19 related research as compared to in non-Covid-19 research (e.g., 12 vs. 21% in economics). And, even when female academics applied to calls to get their Covid-related research funded – such as the first FWO special Covid-19 call that had its application window during the springlockdown – their success rates were far below those of men: only 14% of projects that had a female main applicant got funded as compared to 35% of projects who had a male main applicant; in the end, barely 5% of the total budget went to the project(s) of a female main applicant.

We may expect that this lower involvement in research projects will eventually result in fewer publications by female authors in the (near) future. This is especially problematic since the past period of lockdown in the spring of 2020 was already characterised by a lower number of publication registrations and submissions by (especially junior) women than before.

What did the Young Academy do?

on academics at Flemish universities, the Young Academy taskforce Gender in Academia started to collect facts and figures as well as best practices in June 2020. The resulting memo was presented to the rectors of all Flemish universities via the Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad (VLIR), and after the summer break, we organized a series of ‘advisory meetings’ in which each university’s rector and rele­vant policy makers engaged in a dialogue with an interdisciplinary and interuniversity team of Young Academy members to draft ideas and best practices for potential actions that would fit their particular university. By the end of October, we collected all universities’ individual action plans into a ‘synthesis document’ that was discussed at the VLIR board to further exchange best practices on reducing the negative Covid-19 impact. A similar exercise was done with the policy makers in charge at the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO).

To put this issue on the agenda of policy makers and to en­courage them to take action to minimize the unequal impact of the Covid-19 crisis

Although each university and the FWO developed their own tailor-made action

Taken together, the Covid-19 crisis unequally impacted the research time of academics (m, f, x) such that those with high care duties or a heavy teaching load experienced a severely negative impact on their work. As these first studies show, the Covid-19 crisis has especially reduced the research time for (young) female academics, and consequently their time to apply for research funding and publish results. This may exacerbate the already existing gender-inequalities in academia.

What can universities and policy makers do?

We may expect that this lower involvement in research projects will eventually result in fewer publications by female authors in the (near) future. 54

plan, the Young Academy encouraged them to focus on at least 5 dimensions that, to some extent, correspond to important recommendations of the VLIR-JA Gender charter all universities signed in June 2019 (see: Firstly, we encouraged them to consider extending the temporary contracts of young researchers who could clearly demonstrate a negative impact by Covid-19 due to either care or teaching duties, or who had to rethink or even pause their research projects due to the pandemic. By doing so, universities can guarantee equal future career opportunities for all young scholars.

Secondly, we advocated that all researchers across all career stages should have the opportunity to document the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on their work whenever they would apply for funding, positions, or promotions. Relatedly, we highlighted that selection committees and evaluation commissions should be informed and trained in taking this information into account and to approach applications in a rather holistic way instead of only looking at quantitative performance indicators that may be biased by the Covid-19 impact. Thirdly, and embedded in a longer-term perspective, we encouraged all employers to facilitate academics in taking up parental leave or other forms of care-leave. This could

be achieved by installing a ‘more workable work-culture’ as well as guarantees that no leave would ever harm one’s career or the workings of one’s research group (e.g., by setting up a replacement pool for teaching duties, taking effective research time into account when evaluating academics, etc.).

Inform yourself about the impact of Covid-19 on researchers Become more informed on the facts and figures related to the unequal and often gendered impact of Covid-19; to this effect, you will find a selection of scientific studies underpinning the central arguments and actions mentioned in the Young Academy report on our website

Communicate openly on the impact of Covid-19 on your work Communicate widely and openly on the negative or positive effects of the Covid-19 crisis on your past, current and future work. Do so towards your PhD-students and colleagues as well as to evaluation committees and (future) employers. Let them know which of your research, teaching, or other objectives were not achieved while clearly indicating the limiting factors.

Fourthly, we stimulated universities to better appreciate the teaching efforts and shifts to online education, such that research and teaching would become equally important when evaluating academics’ performance.

Finally, we urged all universities and the FWO to monitor the gender inequalities in academia even more closely than before in order to be able to add or change initiatives to counter the negative impact of Covid-19 whenever that would appear to be necessary.

Raise awareness about the unequal impact of Covid-19 Be open about your situation and raise awareness about the negative or positive impact on yourself and your colleagues. You could, for instance, share our factsheet through social media, or add a statement on the impact of Corona-19 to your email signature.

Take Covid-19 impact into account during evaluations During evaluations, (convince your colleagues to) take into account the specific effects of the Covid-19-crisis on the individual researcher, as scientific studies indicate that the effects can vary significantly depending on the personal situation. Account for the long-term effects on research, because there is no straightforward way to compensate for lost research time.

What can I do?

Since all of the abovementioned actions should be taken at the level of funding institutions and university policies, one may wonder to what extent indivi­dual academics can contribute to fighting the resulting inequali­ ties of the Covid-19 crisis for themselves and their (junior) colleagues. We are convinced, however, that each one of us can make a difference by taking one of the following actions that increase awareness on this theme within our academic community. Specifically, we would like to encourage you to:

Maintain a healthy work schedule Avoid (over) compensating and maintain a healthy work schedule. Be gentle with yourself and others. Take up (corona) parental leave or take other time off and share this openly through various channels. Advocate a pro-rata extension of your contract for the duration of the leave. As a supervisor, be a good role model, facilitate the use of parental leave and actively support a healthy work-life balance for your coworkers.


Science Meets A Plea for Scientific Literacy and Structural Legitimacy


Covid-19 made the interaction between science and politics front page news. On 21 April 2020, together with the rectors of the five Flemish universities, we published an opinion piece in which we asked for understanding for scientists’ uncertainties. We tried to show the same understanding for the difficult decisions that politicians had to make. Our text emphasized the importance of a good relationship between both actors. Now, nearly one year later, we reflect on this nexus again.

Predictable pattern Normally, the interaction between science and politics follows a predictable pattern: politicians pose questions to a group of scientists and use their answers to inform new policy decisions. However, this approach has two drawbacks. First, the answer one receives from ‘science’ strongly depends on what questions you ask and whom you ask. In the past year, this model has repeatedly shown its limits: the (limited) representation of disciplines, the selection of scientists, and how some of them fulfilled that role have been widely criticized.

Secondly, scientists rarely formulate clearcut answers. Sometimes the required research is still in progress, sometimes it has yet to begin. Even when the results are in, there may be knowledge gaps, for example, between lab studies done in highly controlled conditions and what may happen outside the lab. Moreover, simulation studies are often reported in terms of possible scenarios rather than univocal conclusions ready for implementation. A correct assessment of these uncertainties (and their consequences for policy-making) requires a lot of disciplinary knowledge. And the assumptions that go into these studies need to be critically examined as well. Yet, the translation of scientific results into practical measures is a task that both scientists and policymakers are rarely trained in. During the Covid-19 crisis, many scientists felt powerless. Some had crucial pieces of the puzzle, but found no audience among policy makers. Meanwhile, science itself went into overdrive, resulting in an avalanche of Covid-19related publications. It was difficult to amplify the signal of high-quality information in such a way that policy makers would pick it up. Moreover, scientists are often reluctant to share their knowledge because of the uncertainty 56


? Towards a culture of scientific literacy of their models, the incompleteness of their disciplinary perspective, and the changeability of insights. Combined with the fact that the traditional process of internal discussion became overwhelmed by this publication avalanche, this meant that there was little consolidated knowledge on which to base unambiguous advice. The challenges are clear. It is less clear how this vital connection between science and policy can be organized better. We seek a solution to three main questions. (1) How can policy makers ask better questions? (2) How should it be decided who will be consulted, both in terms of disciplines and representatives of those disciplines? (3) How should partial answers from different disciplines be integrated, without pitting them against each other and without diffusing the quality?

The answer one receives from ‘science’ strongly depends on what questions you ask and whom you ask.

In our view, the long-term solution requires strengthening the scientific culture. After all, greater scientific literacy in society would lead to more informed questions and a more critical approach to the answers. A first special role in this process is played by scientists who move into politics, such as the Chancellor of Germany, Dr Angela Merkel, who has received international praise for her scientifically informed approach to the corona crisis. A second crucial task lies with the media. A good example is New Zealand, where journalist Tova O’Brien openly rebuked politician JamiLee Ross when he tried to profit from spreading disinformation. Closer to home, when lobbyists claimed that there was no scientific evidence that their particular industry was responsible for many infections, they used a typical denialism strategy: undermining science by making impossible demands. In a society with a strong scientific culture, a critical journalist can call out such a strategy. Moreover, in such a society, different opinions are not automatically given equal weight. After all, it is crucial to base conclusions only on the best possible analysis. The truth lies rarely in the middle, as scientists who are most knowledgeable often express themselves most cautiously.


We do not need so many structures, we need the right ones. This culture of scientific literacy is a long-­term goal, which can only be influenced indirectly. In the shorter term, we can invest in sound policy advisory structures that mediate between science and politics. Such structures are crucial to managing the role of the scientist as expert, so that the mandate is clearly defined and society as a whole can benefit from policy choices supported by reliable knowledge. In this way, they can immediately act as a lever and contribute to the required long-term cultural change.

coordinating role in times of crisis. Starting from an existing network of experts and existing protocols to ask the right questions, designating new advisory boards, and pooling responses is easier than starting from scratch.

Vital nexus

Protocols for policy advice

What structures are there in Belgium? Sciensano, the scientific health research institute, played a leading role, despite the structural underfunding of federal scientific institutions. In addition, departmental administrations, personal staff of ministers and study departments of parties in our country are important places where scientific studies and advice are translated into policy proposals. This creates a fragmented landscape, in which no one has enough clout to manage a crisis of this magnitude. We do not need so many structures, we need the right ones. The best time to install protocols for organizing time-sensitive policy advice is between crises. Doing this well ensures that all people involved know the scope of their role (for example, when and how the consulted scientists should make their reports public) and that the process as a whole is trustworthy (for example, independent of who is in power). It makes sense to incorporate this task into politically independent structures for policy advice. There are good examples of these abroad. The Netherlands, for instance, has the Scientific Council for Government Policy (Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid, WRR) and the European Union installed SAPEA: Science Advice for Policy by European Academies. Although these are not intended to provide advice in an acute crisis, we believe that they can play an essential

It is a poignant paradox: we live in a country with enormous scientific capital, with many policy makers, scientists, journalists, and opinion makers, the vast majority of whom want to contribute constructively to the solution of this crisis, and yet the impact of the pandemic on Belgium is immense. In recent months, many reasons for this have been put forward, but we think that the deeper causes of many of these factors are a matter of culture and structure. A culture in which the general level of scientific literacy is too low and a structure that lacks essential channels to streamline the interaction between science and policy adequately. With the Young Academy, we want to contribute on both fronts. Changing structures, following the example of institutes abroad, can be done in the short term. We hope that the necessary steps will be taken now, at a time when the Covid-19 crisis is still fresh in our minds. In addition, we reconfirm our commitment to our Science-Meets-Parliament initiative and to the many projects on education, scientific communication, and journalism. In this way, we also hope to contribute to a long-term culture shift, in which science and policy cooperate optimally with each other in dealing with complex, societal challenges. After all, we need this vital nexus not only in times of crisis.

Changing structures, following the example of institutes abroad, can be done in the short term.
















































12/3 Screen behind studio guest

VRT TV NEWS (7 o'clock)

Central screen with daily numbers

Graphs February – April 2020

Dear viewer, if you have watched the 7 o'clock TV news on VRT during March and April of 2020, you know that Covid-19-related numbers were mentioned daily. Sometimes the numbers were even presented as graphs! We wanted to do something in return, so we put these broadcasts into 4 graphs.* SYLVIA WENMACKERS

The start of the Belgian lockdown on the 13th of March 2020 is clearly visible in these graphs. For instance, the number of news items decreased …

… while their duration increased. Covid-19 was underreported during the weekends, so this graph shows a pronounced weekend effect.

Total number of items in the TV news

Duration of the news in minutes




65 20










55 45 35



13-3-2020 3/2









16/ 3

23/ 3




13/ 4




27/ 4

The percentage of items on Covid-19 reached 100% on the 13th of March and this happened more than ten times after that day. At least this indicator could not get any worse.









16/ 3

23/ 3




13/ 4


27/ 4


To end appropriately, we now have to turn to sports. As this graph clearly shows, even a pandemic cannot stop the reporting on (cancelled) sports events.

Percentage of items on Covid-19

Percentage of items on sports


100% 13-3-2020






























16/ 3

23/ 3



*For the labelling of the news items we relied on the VRT NU website (without correcting any errors in the indexing).


13/ 4




27/ 4











16/ 3

23/ 3




13/ 4



27/ 4

Only if we adhere strictly to all preventive measures will the duration of the news broadcast stay below the critical threshold. Thank you for watching and stay safe!


Maja is the annual magazine of the Young Academy of Belgium (Flanders), an interdisciplinary and interuniversity meeting place for young top researchers and artists with their own view on science, society, art and policy. Through opinion pieces and events on current topics, it aims to contribute to the public perception of science and the debate on science policy, specifically from the perspective of the young academic and artist. The Young Academy is part of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts and can work thanks to a subsidy from the National Lottery.


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