Collective scientific expertise

Basic research for the benefit of society – this is the ambition for the CNRS of its Chairman  and CEO, Antoine Petit. The creation of the Mission for Scientific Expertise (MPES) testifies to the organisation's strong institutional commitment to supporting public decision-making and enhancing understanding of major societal issues.

Carrying out expert reviews of scientific issues is one of the CNRS's missions and the organisation has adopted an institutional scientific expertise charter regarding this. Institutional scientific expertise at the CNRS is collective in nature. Its aim is to share knowledge and provide an independent scientific perspective to support decision-making and public debate.
 

Carrying out expert reviews of scientific issues is one of the CNRS's missions and the organisation has adopted an institutional scientific expertise charter regarding this. Institutional scientific expertise at the CNRS is collective in nature. Its aim is to share knowledge and provide an independent scientific perspective to support decision-making and public debate.

What is collective scientific expertise?

The term 'collective scientific expertise' refers to all activities aimed at answering a given question by critically assessing the scientific knowledge available. This in turn is intended to support public decision-making and inform public debate on the subject at hand.
Each collective scientific expert review leads to a collective expert report prepared by a group of experts mandated to work on the subject by the CNRS following a rigorous methodology which guarantees the quality of the study.
The collective expert report is accompanied by a synthesis intended for a broad audience and presents the state of the art of available knowledge. It reports on all the points of view expressed in the scientific literature which the study is based on including points for which the current knowledge does not enable conclusions to be drawn or which are the subject of scientific controversy. It may suggest further research on any unresolved scientific issues.
Collective scientific expertise is different from:

  • research itself which aims to produce new knowledge,
  • research evaluation which aims to assess the quality of researchers' work,
  • foresight studies which are used for scientific programming and planning,
  • interventions, opinions or studies that individual scientists or scientific teams make or provide for the media, think tanks or companies.

4 fundamental principles that guarantee the quality and credibility of an expert review

 

The CNRS Institutional Scientific Expertise Charter sets out four fundamental principles that need to be respected to guarantee the quality and credibility of expert reviews:

•    Competence - Experts are identified on the basis of their scientific activities and production and their competence to work on the subject of the expert review. The document corpus is constituted and all work organised with methodological rigour.
•    Transparency - Publication of the subjects of ongoing expert reviews and of the whole expertise process. At the end of an expert review, lists of the experts who took part and of the bibliographical references they worked on are published.
•    Independence - Situations involving a conflict of interest* are prevented by the experts being required to declare any possible interests or links before taking part in the expert review. Preservation from external interventions (those who request expert reviews, the media, etc.) during collective expertise work.
•    Impartiality - Plurality of viewpoints and disciplinary approaches in the composition of the groups of experts, the creation of the bibliographic corpus and how the work is reported (knowledge gaps, scientific controversies, etc.).

* In this context, a conflict of interest is considered to be any situation involving interference between a matter of public interest and public or private interests which may influence or seem to influence the independent, impartial and objective nature of the expert review (see article L121-5 of the French 'General Civil Service Code').

Collective scientific expertise actors

  • The Mission for Scientific Expertise (MPES) is part of the CNRS Scientific Office . It proposes and implements the CNRS institutional scientific expertise strategy. It centralises requests for institutional expertise (both external requests and self-referrals) and directs the preparation of responses to these. It organises and coordinates all expertise work carried out under the CNRS's responsibility. It also coordinates all communication activities related to CNRS institutional scientific expertise work.
  • The Scientific Expertise Steering Committee advises the MPES regarding all its activities. It makes recommendations for decisions regarding the launches and publication of collective scientific expert reviews as well as the composition of expert groups. It is chaired by the CNRS Deputy CEO for Science  and also includes the Principal Private Secretary  of the CNRS Chairman and CEO (or his representative in charge of public relations) and two people appointed by the CNRS Chairman and CEO. The Steering Committee may invite external personalities to take part in its work.
  • The scientific leaders are scientists recognised by their peers who possess a broad vision of the expert review's subject and the important issues involved. They lead the group of experts, making sure that the rules and principles of collective expertise are respected. They play a key role in all phases of the expert review – defining the framework for the study, constituting the group of experts, organising the review with the MPES's support, writing the collective expert report and taking part in the communication activities related to this expert review.
  • The Monitoring Committee is made up of the scientific leaders of an expert review, the MPES and representatives of the institutes concerned by the study subject. It takes part in framing the expert review and in selecting the experts. It assists the scientific leaders throughout the review.
  • The experts are asked to take part in an expert review because of their competence in one or more of the disciplinary fields related to the subject. They participate on a voluntary basis following analysis of their declarations of interest. They take part in all the work required for the study and collectively approve and validate the resulting collective expert report.

Practical information

The MPES is the prime contact for all questions about the CNRS's scientific expertise work and its completed and ongoing collective scientific expert reviews or even studies being envisaged.

Other contacts:

•    For individual expertise for the media and think tanks: please contact the CNRS press office.
•    To request the assistance of researchers for research, development and prospective activities in private or public sector organisations, please consult the Find an Expert website.

Ongoing expert reviews

Experts working on an expert review have a duty of confidentially regarding the subject for the whole review period. 

  • All requests for information concerning current ongoing expert reviews should be addressed to the MPES (mpes@cnrs.fr) which represents the CNRS.
  • Scientists who wish to take part in an expert review are invited to contact the MPES (mpes@cnrs.fr) indicating the title of the expert review that interests them, specifying the discipline(s) they work in, justifying their competence in the field of the study in question and including a CV. 

Finished expert reviews 

Each expert review leads to a collective expert report which is made public. The report is collectively validated by the group of experts presented therein who worked on the expert review. It is accompanied by a synthesis accessible to a broad  audience. The CNRS is in no way responsible for any uses that may be made of the collective expert reports or syntheses it publishes.

The acoustic impacts of offshore wind projects on marine wildlife (November 2021)

Expert review coordinated by the CNRS a request from the French ministries in charge of ecological transition, sea, higher education, research and innovation.

Abstract
The significant increase in underwater noise pollution produced by human activities over the past decades and its potential impact on marine fauna is causing serious concern among environmental stakeholders. The effect of noise on the ocean is well known internationally (UNESCO Global Ocean Observing System) and is taken into account in European regulations (EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive). In this context, the development of offshore wind farms is being debated because of the noise pollution they may generate.
This report provides an overview of scientific knowledge on the acoustic impact of offshore wind projects on three groups of marine fauna – marine mammals, fish and invertebrates – with few studies available concerning seabirds and sea turtles. It presents the mechanisms of underwater sound propagation; the multiple impacts on marine species of noise generated by wind projects (especially during their construction, but also during their operational phase), comparing them to other man-made noise emissions; and the effect of mitigation strategies. It also points to the lack of current knowledge, particularly with regard to some species and types of sound source. 

Eutrophication: causes, mechanisms, consequences and predictability (November 2017)

Expert review coordinated by the CNRS, in partnership with the Ifremer, the INRA and the Irstea following a request from the French ministries in charge of agriculture and ecological transition respectively and with financial support from the French Agency for Biodiversity.

Abstract 

Eutrophication is the most visible manifestation of the pollution of waters by organic matter and nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus) resulting from human activities. It leads to excessive algal growth and oxygen depletion in water which causes major disturbances to aquatic ecosystems. It has an impact on human health and associated activities and is thus a socially sensitive issue.

This report provides a critical appraisal of the international scientific knowledge about the causes, mechanisms, consequences and predictability of eutrophication phenomena. It also aims to provide a clearer definition of eutrophication by taking the land-sea continuum into account. Furthermore, it considers the requirements and operational issues linked to public action to identify levers for action and any scientific obstacles which require new knowledge to be acquired.

 

Incestuous sexual violence against minors (April 2017)

Expert review coordinated by the CNRS following a request from the French ministries in charge of children and research respectively.

Abstract

Understanding the issue of incestuous sexual violence against children is hampered by many taboos and prejudices. In the context of the first plan to mobilise people against and combat violence against children (2017-2019), this report provides an appraisal of current knowledge from a gender perspective which favours several analytical perspectives - socio-historical analysis of collective representations, thought about quantification, positive criminal law and closed court cases, neuro-developmental and psychological consequences, psychological support.

It fosters progress in knowledge of the phenomenon both in terms of figures and of an overall understanding of the phenomenon and its consequences in a dynamic perspective of support for public policies. It suggests avenues of thought for research (in the neurosciences, collective behavioural sciences, gender and sexuality studies, legal studies, etc.) and regarding raising awareness, training and care.

The environmental impacts of the exploitation of deep-sea mineral resources (June 2014)

Expert review coordinated by the CNRS and the Ifremer following a request from the French ministries in charge of ecology and research respectively. 

Abstract

The increase in the worldwide demand for metals has revived the exploration of mineral resources including in the deep ocean which has significant potential reserves of metals. However, the environmental impacts and economic consequences of exploring and exploiting these mineral resources need to be assessed and actually very little is currently known about the ecology of the ecosystems associated with these mineral resources and their links and interactions with more distant sites. Furthermore, the ecological benefits these sites or their uses provide may influence the conditions for their exploitation.

In the framework of the national programme for research and access to deep-sea mineral resources, this report provides an exhaustive critical review of scientific findings about the environmental consequences of the exploration and exploitation of deep-sea mineral resources. It highlights gaps in knowledge, questions and uncertainties and also suggests lines of research for the future. The report is aimed at all stakeholders in the marine sphere and will support the development of public policies regarding applications for mining exploration permits. It will also reinforce France's position in the development of an ambitious marine research and innovation strategy as it takes environmental requirements into account and promotes the sustainable exploitation of the deep seabed.

The agronomic, environmental and socio-economic effects of herbicide-tolerant plant varieties (November 2011)

Expert review coordinated by the CNRS and the INRA at the request of the ministries in charge of agriculture and ecology respectively.

Abstract

Crop weed control is a determining factor for agricultural yields which means selecting the right plant varieties capable of tolerating the application of existing herbicides is important because this provides farmers with a technical response to weed control difficulties. The cultivation of these plant varieties is also presented as enabling farmers to reduce the quantities of herbicides used. Nevertheless, these plant varieties bring up certain questions. What are the medium and long-term effects of their cultivation? What role could they play in policies aimed at reducing the use of pesticides?

This expert review features a multidisciplinary approach combining life sciences and economic and social sciences and thus provides the fullest report possible on knowledge of the impacts of breeding and using herbicide-tolerant varieties. It highlights the specific problems associated with these varieties. One of the research results discussed shows that repeated use of these varieties under certain conditions could make them ineffective in the medium term. This expert review also stresses that weed management should not rely solely on these varietal innovations and should instead integrate different complementary approaches.

Other collective expert reviews the CNRS contributed to

Research into radicalisation, the forms of violence that result from it and the way societies prevent and protect themselves from it. An overall summary of knowledge, proposals and initiatives (March 2016)

Expert review coordinated by the ATHENA alliance which was submitted to the French Research Ministry. Find out more.

Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis

Contribution by the 1st Working Group to the sixth report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Find out more.

Photo credit: CNRS Images photo library.