University of Glasgow academics awarded £2.6m in prestigious ERC Starting Grants

Published: 3 September 2020

Dr Mona Simion (one of two UofG academics) awarded more than £2.6m in the prestigious European Research Council Starting Grant scheme

Two University of Glasgow academics have been awarded more than £2.6m in the prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant scheme.

Public health doctor Professor Vittal Katikireddi and Philosophy lecturer Dr Mona Simion, Deputy Director of the COGITO Epistemology Research Centre, were granted their awards as part of a €677m round of funding announced today by the ERC. The grants are part of the EU’s Research and Innovation Programme, Horizon 2020.

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Based at the University of Glasgow’s MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, Prof Katikireddi £1.3m award will be used to establish Health Equity of Economic Determinants (HEED): Developing a Pan-European microsimulation model – a five year study starting in January 2021, which will look at the impacts of taxation and social security policies on population health and mortality across Europe. The study will use a range of real-world data as well as computer modelling, to understand the real and map the potential impacts of policy decisions on population health and wellbeing.

Four times as many people die early in the most deprived areas of Scotland than the least deprived. Income and welfare policies are likely to play a major role. This grant will allow Prof Katikireddi and his team to develop a computer model, drawing on the most robust available data, to predict what the impact of different government policies across Europe on health inequalities is likely to be. The work will span several disciplines, integrating perspectives from epidemiology, public health, economics, statistics, computer modelling and social policy.

Prof Katikireddi said: “I am delighted that we have been successful in our ERC Starting Grant. Ultimately, there is a need to move from ‘understanding the problem’ to ‘what should we do’ to reducing health inequalities through effective government policies. Addressing this gap is at the heart of this research.

"For too long, the health implications of specific economic policies have been poorly understood. Yet, we know that clearly articulating the health implications of decisions can help policymakers pursue evidence-informed policies.  We hope that by creating the HEED model we will have created a tool that can answer many of these questions, and thereby help governments to tackle the unfair burden of disease and death amongst socially disadvantaged people in societies.”

While Dr Simion, based in the COGITO Epistemology Research Centre, Philosophy, the College of Arts, has been awarded more than £1.3m over five years to develop a novel research programme for the field of social epistemology, from the ground up.

Social epistemology investigates the effects social interactions have on our knowledge: how we gain knowledge from social sources (others’ testimony, the media), how we should respond to disagreement, how groups (scientific teams, organisations) can know.  It is amongst the most thriving research areas in contemporary philosophy.

Simion’s project, entitled ‘KnowledgeLab: Knowledge-First Social Epistemology’, will develop a novel research programme for social epistemology, one that puts knowledge first: ; it starts with the function of communication - that of generating knowledge - and investigates the normative  structure that is borne out by this function: how should we proceed in social interactions in order to generate knowledge?

Dr Simion, said: “I am very excited by the opportunity that my ERC grant provides me to fully realise my passion for understanding how knowledge is generated in social settings. The grant allows me to address the main challenges in the field of social epistemology in a systematic and rigorous manner and to develop ground-breaking methods with wide-reaching benefits across several fields in philosophy and beyond.

“The framework KnowledgeLab will develop is highly relevant in the​ context of a globalised society, replete with both easy-access information and misinformation. It is more important than ever to know what separates trustworthy sources of information from untrustworthy ones.

“Results in social epistemology have wide, direct impact on: scientific practice (concerning, for instance, academic publishing, guidelines for scientific authorship and collaboration, knowledge policy and debates over the role of the Internet in knowledge transmission and creation), as well as society at large (concerning voting, legal standards for criminal conviction, cross-cultural communication barriers, licensing mass communication policies, increasing social cohesion).”

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “With European Research Council grants, the EU is leveraging the talent and curiosity of some of the best young researchers in Europe. Their ideas are set to break fresh ground and open new ways to deal with pressing challenges in the areas of health, energy and digital technologies, as well as many other fields. Our ambition to effectively tackle current and future crises depends on our strong will to continuously and increasingly support top research at the frontiers of our knowledge.”

President of the European Research Council (ERC), Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, commented: “The present health crisis showed that despite spectacular progress in research over the past decades, there still remain plenty of unsolved scientific mysteries, as well as lessons to be learnt from the past. Therefore, the best strategy to tackle it is to enable some of the brightest minds to pursue their most innovative ideas, in order to create opportunities for serendipitous discoveries. This is what the European Research Council is for. It’s clear that, if Europe is to be competitive globally, it needs to give substantial support to the next generation of researchers as these ERC Starting Grants do, and to invest much more in top blue sky research.”

The ERC Starting Grant grantees are a diverse group with 40 different nationalities. Amongst the winners, 20 researchers are moving to Europe from further afield thanks to the funding. The new grantees will be based in 25 countries across Europe, with Germany (88 grants), the UK (62), the Netherlands (42) and France (38) as top locations. Some 13% of applications were selected for funding in this round.

These Starting Grants will create an estimated 2,500 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and other staff at the host institutions.

First published: 3 September 2020

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