A (probable) effect of investments on “sexy” #BigScience projects


I just read a very interesting article entitled “‘Big science’, big hype, big mistake” by Bill Amos and I would like to add my two cents.

“funding bodies seem ever more impressed by shiny big projects coupled with glamorous promises rather than realistic chances of finding out anything useful”

This reminds me of an article I had written at the end of my PhD, a few years ago now, in a major Greek newspaper, whose translation you can find here. Academics are desperately trying to find out what could be the next big “sexy” thing (the phrase I repeatedly heard back then) so that they can adapt to it, so that they can ensure that their funding will continue. The realisation that being a scientist today involves more of this search rather than the search for knowledge/scientific advancement shook the foundations of my (admittedly too idealistic) belief in science (and this was the main reason I decided I did not want to be a researcher). We have currently an arms race: scientists are trying to think of more and more glamorous (to use Bill Amos’s phrase) projects and funding bodies want to fund more and more of such shiny projects and the bar keeps rising (when will it stop?).

My idealism in science did not disappear completely, so at the end of my PhD I moved on the “other side”, the science policy side. The big change for me was, however, that I moved from the general field of biology to the general field of physics. In Biology most projects are comparatively small (the flowers in the garden that will die in Bill Amos’s metaphor), in Astroparticle Physics infrastructures cost from a hundreds of thousands of euros to billions of euros (the equivalent garden would contain a few big trees and some flowers around nonethless). Do the physicists need such Big Science projects? With my limited knowledge of the field, I would say yes. Do biologists need to scale up their research to similar levels to astroparticle physicists? I would say no. Not all disciplines are the same, we should not be doing copy pasting when funding science is concerned. In the same way that one expects scientists to think in their work, politicians should be doing the equivalent thinking.

“Heads of groups typically add their names to all papers, so the heads of larger groups inevitably appear more productive (and more fundable) than those of smaller groups. This effect is then exaggerated by self-citation because more authors equal more citations.”

In Biology most papers are still written by few authors, in Astroparticle Physics you have hundreds of authors. Thinking of the phrase quoted above, does this mean that the latter are more productive scientists than the former? NO!

A number of interesting European Science Foundation reports

Looking at the European Science Foundation publications page, I was happy to discover a number of interesting reports that were published in the last year:


Directorate General for Communications, Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT) has decided to establish a group of experts to get advice about the orientations to be adopted in the design of research and innovation activities and initiatives dealing with Research and Innovation in ICT (communication networks, computing systems, digital content and related technologies). This group will be called “CONNECT Advisory Forum for ICT Research and Innovation” (CAF).

For more information click here. This document includes list of members of the CAF for 2013-2014 (2 year mandate).

How Academies can engage with policy: tips from the “Science-Policy Dialogue” EASAC project

When I was about to create this post, with yet another interesting link that I found, my eye fell immediately to my latest post entitled “How academics can engage with policy: 10 tips for a better conversation“. So I found it funny when I realised that this post is about a good practice guide in Dialogue between Academies and Policy Communities. The first was about academics and policy-makers, this one is about academies and policy-makers.

I am a bit confused about all the different associations of Academies worldwide. I am trying to understand what is the purpose of each one and what differentiates them. There is ICSU, there is the IAP, there is EASAC, there is Academia Europaea, etc, etc. I hope one day I will be able to find out what are the differences.

How academics can engage with policy: 10 tips for a better conversation

How academics can engage with policy: 10 tips for a better conversation
Academics need to look at different ways they can communicate their research to policymakers, says Matthew Goodwin –here’s his advice on not wasting their time, or yours.

UPDATEExperts and experimental government [5/4/2013, GUARDIAN]

The idea of giving a clever man a desk in Whitehall is outdated, argues Geoff Mulgan in the third of our series on scientific advice. We need to take seriously the evidence about evidence

Science in Policy and Policy in Science: two events coming up

I am pleased to say that I will have the joy of attending two events next month – from which I will be tweeting hopefully.

Science in Policy

As a geekmanifesto groupie, i would not miss the CSaP annual conference 2013 “Future directions for scientific advice in Whitehall“. As mentioned in a previous post, next month Sir John Beddington gives his place as Chief Scientific Advisor to Sir Mark Walport. Thus, the aim of the conference is to launch a collection of essays charting future directions for scientific advice in Whitehall.

Continue reading

#AAASmtg storify stories

View the following stories on Storify:

#AAASmtg: Communicating Science to Policy-Makers and this Communicating Science to Policy-Makers at AAAS 2013 

Engaging with Social Media

Working with Print, Broadcast, and Online Media

The Beauty and Benefits of Escaping the Ivory Tower (see also Google document and you can download the presentations here)

A new social (media) contract for scientist (#AAASsms)

An article on dealing with uncertainty when talking to policy makers (climate change related).  (and another article on this subject from the STEPS conference at the beginning of the month).

Making the most of scientists and engineers in government and Beddington’s legacy

In the UK, the Government Office for Science conducted a review to provide information about the current state of the the Government Science and Engineering (GSE) community, propose a vision for the future of the profession and highlight priorities for action. You can find the report here:

The future of the Civil Service: Making the most of scientists and engineers in government

You can find more information on this report here.

You should also read today’s article in the guardian by the outgoing UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir John Beddington. There is also an interview of Sir Beddington at the Civil Service World website.

And if you want to read an opinion on his legacy, Research Fortnight has written an article on him.

UPDATE: new article by  on the issue of a Chief Social Scientist (15/03/2013) – with interesting video from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee session.

UPDATE2: Prof Sir John Beddington warns of floods, droughts and storms here (25/03/2013).

UPDATE3: In praise of … John Beddington at the Guardian (26/03/2013).