Agenda 2030 Graduate School blog

Lund University Agenda 2030 Graduate School is a global, cutting-edge research school and collaboration platform for issues related to societal challenges, sustainability and the 2030 Agenda. The 17 PhD students from all faculties at Lund University enrolled with the Agenda 2030 Graduate School relate their specific research topics to the Sustainable Development Goals. In this blog the PhD students of the Graduate School discuss topical research and societal issues related to the 2030 Agenda.

Accountability and Cognitive Science

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Posted on 16 November 2020 by Alexander Tagesson (Division of Cognitive Science)

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Agenda 2030 Graduate School or Lund University. The present document is being issued without formal editing.

In the 1950s, researchers in several fields found an interest in studying the mind. In the mid-70s, these curiosities were aligned as a unified field under the heading of “cognitive science”, an attempt to create a truly interdisciplinary scientific endeavor. From the beginning, cognitive science was made up by six sub-fields: philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, neuroscience, computer science and psychology[1]. It has since evolved to include topics within these sub-fields that can be considered academic disciplines in their own right. For example, the cognitive science division at Lund University[2] has research programs in Audio Description and Accessibility, Choice Blindness, Cognitive Zoology, Educational Technology, Decision Making and Robotics.

Still, the establishment of cognitive science as an interdisciplinary academic field in its own right is questioned[3]. Research within the field is dominated by psychology and educationally there is no curricular consensus[4]. Today, both prestigious universities and journals focus on the cognitive sciences, rather than cognitive science[5]. Trained cognitive scientists contribute interesting scientific work, but often not within cognitive science itself[6].

The SDGs belong to another interdisciplinary endeavor, namely the Agenda 2030. Within the agenda, diverse issues, usually studied in separate fields, are theoretically interlinked due to their practical connections in regard to promote prosperity while protecting the environment. The SDGs need to be achieved in tandem, as they are highly interconnected and a sustainable fulfillment of one SDG often depend on the fulfillments of other SDGs ( This gives the agenda direction: if we lack improvement on one SDG, we might want to re-focus our efforts to keep progress aligned and interdisciplinary, to be able to achieve the agenda as such. This is a sustainable practice for an interdisciplinary endeavor and provides accountability, understood as responsibility for keeping all SDGs progressing and integrating new insights within the different fields, for continued interdisciplinary work.

Cognitive science lacks such inherent direction, as interesting work is produced within the different sub-fields and there is no certainty that we need to progress within all these fields to learn more about the mind. As a result, cognitive science often looks more like cognitive sciences. Moving forward, if we still want to tackle the mysteries of the mind through interdisciplinary work, cognitive science would want to look for a regulating mechanism comparable to the “direction”-mechanism within the agenda. Such mechanism will reasonably create more accountability, keeping one sub-field from dominating and scientific progress better integrated within the field itself.

[1] Thagard, Paul, “Cognitive Science”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =


[3] For an opposite view of the evolution of cognitive science see McShane, M., Bringsjord, S., Hendler, J., Nirenburg, S. and Sun, R. (2019), A Response to Núñez et al.’s (2019) “What Happened to Cognitive Science?”. Top Cogn Sci, 11: 914-917. doi: 10.1111/tops.12458

[4] Núñez, R., Allen, M., Gao, R. et al. What happened to cognitive science?. Nat Hum Behav 3, 782–791 (2019).

[5] For some example see,;

[6] Núñez, R., Allen, M., Gao, R. et al. What happened to cognitive science?. Nat Hum Behav 3, 782–791 (2019).

November 16, 2020

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