Science academy chief on Pere Sihtkapital controversy: Case 'regrettable'

Tarmo Soomere.
Tarmo Soomere. Source: Anna Pavlenko/Raadio 4

Tarmo Soomere, head of the Estonian Academy of Sciences says the situation where foundation and think-tank Pere Sihtkapital obtained personal data in violation of the regulations is "regrettable," adding that the factors behind women not giving birth nonetheless need to be examined.

Soomere, who also sits on Pere Sihtkapital's supervisory board, says he is unaware of the request to obtain the data on the foundation's behalf and made by Dean of the University of Tartu Raul Eamets.

Soomere, who was briefly a potential candidate ahead of the 2021 presidential elections, gave a short interview to ERR regarding the current controversy, which follows.

ERR: Were you aware of the methods used in obtaining the data referred to in this study?

Tarmo Soomere: The supervisory board's role at Pere Sihtkapital is much the same as the equivalent bodies at similar institutions. The board decides the questions we want answering, answers which will help Estonia move forward, as well as the funding options the foundation is willing to look at.

ERR: What is your role with Pere Sihtkapital? How did you get the position, and why?

Soomere: It is very hard for me to say why I get invited to different positions. I personally think that this is a certain nod towards my academic baggage, and certainly somewhat of a hope that the quality of academic research will be better guaranteed as a result.

Since Raul Eamets is also a member of the supervisory board, did you discuss the division of labor, whereby he takes care of the contractual side with the University of Tartu, in order to obtain the data from the population register?

The initiative Raul Eamets took with this particular contract has never been a problem for me. And as I understand things, there are some pretty serious charges laid against him now. this is extremely unfortunate, when either situations reminiscent of corruption or a potential violation of scientific ethics have arisen in connection with this work.

Much as I would like to be the chief of Estonian science, as the head of the academy, I have no right, opportunity or mandate to interfere in the internal workings of another public institution.

Aren't you worried that this could also cast a pall on you as the head of the academy of sciences, and on the Estonian scientific community in general?

The risks that researchers take when they set out to conduct, organize, or evaluate practical research in any way are always present – but I certainly think that these risks are not very large.

Do you consider this inquiry to be ethical in nature?

If we want the Estonian state to remain, as is stated in the preamble of the constitution, based on the concept of the survival of our people, culture and language, we need to know where the obstacles that can stand in the way of that survival lie. And sometimes we need to know the answers to some very painful questions.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

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