Diversity is the powerhouse of development – new academy leadership press conference

During the online press conference of the newly elected officials of the Academy, the newly elected president, who will officially take office on 1 August, highlighted the importance of cooperation between the different fields of science and the representatives of different ideologies. Tamás Freund also stressed that the MTA should rely on its 18,000-strong public body and the intellectual capital it has accumulated. As for the relationship between science and politics, he wishes to strengthen cooperation between them after building mutual trust.

8 July 2020

Tamás Freund’s speech delivered during the press conference

Allow me to offer a warm welcome to the members of the press and my elected colleagues.

As a result of the epidemic, I, the newly elected President of the Academy, can address you, the members of the press, before I can my fellow scientists and the Hungarian public. Thus, they will receive my first thoughts as President via your assistance. Let me ask you to regard this extraordinary situation and our joint responsibility as the starting point of a cooperation that is founded on mutual respect and loyalty. Within my presidential conception, the cultivation and enrichment of the relationship between scientists and the public has been given a special place. Your role and cooperation is of primary importance in this process.

Firstly, let me pay tribute to the outgoing leadership of the Academy for their 6 or 3 years of self-sacrificing work. Most of all, let me thank President László Lovász, who has defended the interests of the Academy in the past two difficult years while making enormous sacrifices. A short video has been compiled about his work and excellent programmes, which will be screened tomorrow at the closing ceremony of the General Assembly.

I wish to thank my future colleagues and the Secretariat of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for their efforts. As a Vice President, I could count on their work, and as a result of their efforts, we were able to organise a successful General Assembly, where the new leadership was elected despite the extraordinary circumstances. I am looking forward to working together with them.

In my opinion, the election campaign and the elections were conducted in a fair manner. For this, I express my thanks to the Nominations Committee, to its President, academician József Vörös, and to all the candidates. I wish to congratulate my rival, Csaba Pléh, who obtained a considerable amount of the votes. This proves that he is not only an excellent scientist, but his programme and strategy have significant support; therefore, we must consider adopting some of the elements of his programme. I am indebted to him because our good collegial relationship has not been dampened by the sometimes dishonorable political skirmishes that were ongoing in the background. Therefore, during my presidency I will be counting on any words of wisdom he may have to offer.

I wish to congratulate my newly elected fellow leaders, with whom I would like to work in close cooperation in the next three years for the benefit of Hungarian science. First, allow me to congratulate the ladies. Deputy Secretary-General Anna Erdei will have significant responsibilities in building public relations. I hope she will be happy to manage this complex area. I also wish to congratulate Vice President Vanda Lamm, who will be responsible for the field of social sciences. I wish to rely on her help to prove that I value and support excellence in social sciences and that humanities and social studies have an important role to play in implementing my programme. My congratulations also go out to my friend Secretary-General László Kollár, with whom I prepared together for this challenge. Based on this alone, I think our collaboration will be smooth, as our value systems are the same. We also see the Academy’s challenges and their respective solutions in a similar way. Let me congratulate Vice President Ferenc Hudecz, who will coordinate issues in the field of natural sciences. As he is a former rector at ELTE University, I am counting on his help in developing our relationship with universities. The General Assembly has not decided on the third Vice President, who will be responsible for the field of life sciences, but I could work equally well with either candidate: György Kosztolányi, the President of the Section of Medical Sciences; and Eörs Szathmáry, the Director General of the Centre for Ecological Research. [* editor’s note: György Kosztolányi was elected to this post in the meantime*]

I respect excellence in each field of science, absolutely irrespective of political affiliation. I will continue to criticise weak performances in the future, also irrespective of political affiliation. If someone sees the world in a different manner or has a different point of basic reference, or if someone regards universal science as more central to their studies than Hungarian aspects of it, this in itself does not make them a poor scientist. I am convinced that diversity is the powerhouse of development and a guarantee of perseverance – ideological diversity is the key to social development, while genetic diversity is crucial for biological evolution.

Each scientific field has different schools, some of which dominate in a given era. The fact that these schools rise or fall according to their internationally acclaimed performance is fine. The professional contest between certain schools or ideological trends serves the development of the given scientific field. However, this contest should take place between excellent scientists, who are professionally irreproachable. Otherwise, the contest is pointless; what is more, it results in negative selection. It is all right to criticise the government, but in the interests of the country, the criticism should come from excellent scientists on a strictly professional basis in line with the Academy’s mission. Allow me to quote Domokos Kosáry: “The criticism should come from a higher level of the representation of Hungarian interests, from which the Academy should never move away.”

In the present situation, our internal debates are justified and necessary. These should be conducted calmly, and all involved parties should respect one another and come to a consensus or arrive at principled compromises – compromises that are in harmony with our basic principles and the mission of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

At the same time, the Hungarian scientific community should not lock itself up in an ivory tower. We must be open to the needs of society and the government and to questions and criticism alike. We must strengthen our relationships with our partners; we must strive for dialogue where we can effectively represent the values upon which the Academy was founded.

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences is a national treasure, and the cooperation of science and politics is in the interest of the nation. A good relationship between science and politics – which lacks unfavourable compromises, and as a result of which mutually advantageous cooperation is established – is a fundamental prerequisite for the country’s prosperity, development and its ability to fight unforeseeable challenges. Since the end of the Second World War, this has been the key to all successful national successes, beginning with the United States to the present boom Asian countries have been experiencing. A very good example of this is the treatment of the present Covid-19 epidemic.

The mutually respectful relationship between science and politics must cover the country’s key economic factors and should have wide-ranging public support. If this relationship is preserved for decades, we can gradually reduce our areas of disadvantage and ensure the well-being of our citizens, as well as the continuous development of the country and the nation as a whole.

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences – owing to its intellectual capital extending to all Hungarian-populated areas, and almost the whole world, to its unique organising capacity, to its extensive collaborations and to its policy-promoting cooperation – should play a decisive role in strengthening national cooperation so that it functions at its best. The public expects us to do so. The second centenary of the foundation of the Academy is approaching. All the politicians and states people of the past the Hungarian nation respected the most were supporters, and what is more, defenders of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The first ones in this list are István Széchenyi, József Eötvös and Ferenc Deák. And it is our genuine hope that this list will be further complemented.

It is my most urgent task to address the members of our 18,000-strong public body. Without the active participation of this community, a sustainable Academy, having lost its research network, cannot authentically fulfil its mission. The 18,000 public body members, who all hold a PhD degree – including scholars, researchers, teachers, and trans-border Hungarians – have the kind of intellectual capital that should be used in the interests of the fate and future of the nation. The members of the scientific committees are elected from within the ranks of this community; therefore, these committees represent the expertise of the entire public body in the best way. Relying on and referring to them, the Academy can firmly embrace the role of Advisor to the Nation and establish itself in this function as the single and most unavoidable entity. I wish to build upon them, as the main body, in terms of the most important tasks of the Academy: scientific quality assurance and monitoring, both at the individual and the research group level; the communication of scientific results to the wider public; and the solution to problems that arise during the course of bilateral relationships with the government and Parliament.

Concerning our international role, as President of the Academy, I will work to further deepen the international integration of Hungarian science, to extend its relationship network and to spread news about our excellence throughout the world.

At present, the diverse relationship network of the Academy relies on the alliance of national academies, on close cooperation with European and global organisations, and on our several thousand members across the borders. Relying on this foundation, I aim to represent the interests of Hungarian science, the principle of freedom and openness in science, and to strengthen the responsibility of the international scientific community in matters of human destiny.

Besides the representation of our interests, I consider it equally important to discuss the latest results and methods of international science, science policy and science ethics with the Hungarian scientific community and, where necessary, to improve our own practices.

I am convinced that any international collaboration can only be successful if all fields of science cooperate, if scientific results and methods are respected, and if society is open to such collaborations. I regard the strengthening of this cooperation and openness as crucial for the success of domestic and international collaborations.

Finally, after 18 years in office, I must now resign my position of Director of the Institute of Experimental Medicine (KOKI). I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of my colleagues and the present and previous leaders of KOKI for creating a neuroscience research centre that is at the cutting edge of science. Our institute deserves to be considered the flagship of Hungarian science, and as an international audit committee wrote: KOKI plays a leading role on the global neuroscience stage. Naturally, I wish to take part in the work of my research group in the future, to the extent my presidency allows. I wish the new leadership of KOKI success in further raising research standards and in preserving our leading role – while maintaining the collaborative, friendly and creative atmosphere that characterises KOKI now.

Throughout my life, I have held several honourable positions, including international ones, and I have received several awards both in Hungary and abroad. However, I regard the greatest and most responsible task of my lifetime as the one laid out before me: being the next President of this august scientific body: the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. And all this after having won the trust of the most excellent members of Hungarian scientific society, allowing me to devote all my knowledge, experience and ability to serve the mission of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in the interests of the entire Hungarian scientific community.

In response to a journalist’s question, president-elect Freund said that in setting up a bilateral communication channel with the government, a newly established network could play a crucial role in communications. The various sections of this network could be set up in different ministries, in a similar manner to the already existing ones set up in the Scientific Council for Home Affairs in the Ministry of the Interior and the Scientific Council for Health in the Ministry of Human Capacities. Through this network, the government could assign tasks to the Academy, while the MTA could draw attention to what it sees as crucial issues towards policy makers. In an answer to another question, he considered it pointless to have the budget of the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH) outside the chapter of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

The new officials of the MTA uniformly expressed their gratitude for the work of outgoing president László Lovász. As László Péter Kollár said, Lovász has defended the interests of the Academy like “Hercules under pressure” [editor's note: this is a reference to Endre Ady’s poem titled A muszáj Herkules]. According to László Péter Kollár, the implementation of the tasks facing the Academy is facilitated by the fact that the various leadership candidate programmes overlap when it comes to the most important issues, and the new leaders no longer represent their narrow fields, but the interests of the entire Hungarian scientific field.

Anna Erdei, Deputy Secretary-General, said her main aims are the following: to strengthen the connections between science and the wider public; to promote scientific thinking based on facts; and to fight against pseudoscience. To this end, in addition to the Hungarian Science Festival held every November, the Academy will orchestrate popular science programmes throughout the year.

Vanda Lamm, the Academy’s new Vice President (social sciences), stressed the importance of freedom of science and the independence of the MTA. She said her main task as Vice President is to raise awareness among natural scientists with regard to the methodology, results and rules of publication concerning social sciences.

Ferenc Hudecz, the Academy’s new Vice President (natural sciences), said crucial steps need to be taken to create an environment in Hungary that motivates and acknowledges scientific achievement and to shape public opinion in such a way that people value knowledge and education and are well-informed.