Antonio Loprieno speaks with us about current global challenges of the EU, the contrasting communication requirements of science and religion, and why being a university leader is not so much different from being a soccer referee.


Who are you and what is your profession?

Antonio Loprieno, president of the ALLEA association of European academies and chair of SAPEA, part of the European Commission’s scientific advice mechanism.
I am originally an Egyptologist, but in the course of my career I have replaced mummies with creatures who are very much alive, such as academicians and policy-makers.

Can you describe your workplace in two words?

Time travel.

What tools do you use to organise your ideas?

Alas, as a child of the analog era, I still use a pen and a paper block.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges the EU is currently facing?

The biggest challenge is probably how to uphold the primacy of liberal democratic values in the view of the global challenges coming from the East (such as confessional or authoritarian values) as well as from the West (such as moralising or populist ideologies).

How can science contribute to strengthening the role of evidence-based decision-making?

In that it explains first to the general public, and then to policy-makers as their elected representatives, how scientific evidence is generated: not by following opinions, but by looking for empirical probabilities. Unlike religion, science is not interested in what is true, but rather in what is most likely.

Is there a takeaway from the pandemic that you would like to share? 

I think that the pandemic has shown how important science is to insure a better future, but also how unfortunately unimportant it can become when a society (or some of its members) feel under pressure.

Which newsletter(s) have you subscribed to? What are you currently reading?

I cannot count the number of newsletters I have unknowingly subscribed to, but I can tell you what I am currently reading: Mind Shift, by John Parrington.

Who would you like to work with some day?

With a simultaneous interpreter. This must be the most neurologically demanding job on earth.

Tell us a fun or unknown fact about you!

When I was young, I was a soccer referee, which is like being a university leader: the less the fans see you, the better the game is going – for both sides.

In the future, you would like to…

…get a PhD in Maltese studies.

What is your favourite spot in Berlin?

The French Cathedral.

PS: What is the most delicious thing you ate this week?

Stuffat tal-fenek (but I won’t translate it for you).


SAPEA – Science Advice for Policy by European Academies – brings together expertise from over a hundred academies and learned societies in more than 40 countries across Europe. Together with the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, they provide independent scientific advice to European Commissioners to support their decision-making. They also work to raise awareness of scientific advice and evidence in policymaking, and to stimulate debate in Europe about these issues.

If you want to learn more about the work of SAPEA, check out the recording of their event Time Travel and Climate: Changing the Past to Fix the Future, which took place at Berlin Science Week on 6 Nov 2021.