A CERN Model for Studying the Information Environment

Article by Alicia Wanless: “After the Second World War, European science was suffering. Scientists were leaving Europe in pursuit of safety and work opportunities, among other reasons. To stem the exodus and unite the community around a vision of science for peace, in 1949, a transatlantic group of scholars proposed the creation of a world-class physics research facility in Europe. The grand vision was for this center to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Their white paper laid the foundation for the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), which today supports fundamental research in physics across an international community of more than 10,000 scientists from twenty-three member states and more than seventy other nations. Together, researchers at CERN built cutting-edge instruments to observe dozens of subatomic particles for the first time. And along the way they invented the World Wide Web, which was originally conceived as a tool to empower CERN’s distributed teams.

Such large-scale collaboration is once again needed to connect scholars, policymakers, and practitioners internationally and to accelerate research, this time to unlock the mysteries of the information environment. Democracies around the world are grappling with how to safeguard democratic values against online abuse, the proliferation of illiberal and xenophobic narratives, malign interference, and a host of other challenges related to a rapidly evolving information environment. What are the conditions within the information environment that can foster democratic societies and encourage active citizen participation? Sadly, the evidence needed to guide policymaking and social action in this domain is sorely lacking.

Researchers, governments, and civil society must come together to help. This paper explores how CERN can serve as a model for developing the Institute for Research on the Information Environment (IRIE). By connecting disciplines and providing shared engineering resources and capacity-building across the world’s democracies, IRIE will scale up applied research to enable evidence-based policymaking and implementation…(More)”.