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

THESE OPINIONS ARE MY OWN AND HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH MY EMPLOYER AND CURRENT JOB

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!

Tap in or miss out

My article on the progress of the HorizonTap idea was published yesterday (23/5/2013) in ResearchEurope, in the special issue for the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators (EARMA) conference in July (http://www.earma-vienna-2013.com/index.php?id=1183).

Here is the article: http://bit.ly/horizontap 

 

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:

Science Is Vital strikes again

Yesterday a letter was sent to The Telegraph by the Science Is Vital campaign.

This was accompanied by an article in the same newspaper “Spend more on science or fall behind G8” by Stephen Adams.

And another article was written in the Guardian “Science funding: time to reverse the decline” by three founders of the Science Is Vital campaign, Jenny Rohn, Stephen Curry and Richard P Grant.

Finally, see article on the campaign website for data.

Please also see a recent Guardian article “Does the UK need to spend more on basic research?” by Kieron Flanagan

HorizonTap or why the EC is not tapping into the knowledge of those it has indirectly hired

Last week a new colleague started working with us as project manager for a EU-funded research project and I took the opportunity to ask her how had she found this job. “Too complicated” she said. She is not alone: an extremely common problem for project managers working on EU-funded projects is that they don’t know what will happen to them when the project ends.

Most usually their contract ends. If one is lucky the scientist for whom one worked for will have succeeded in getting more funding from the EU in the form of a new project, in which case one most probably can continue working with the same community. Even if one has such luck, it is not necessarily possible for this person to continue working there: public organisations in the EU usually put restrictions on how many years someone can work for them on temporary contracts. In the French public sector it is 6 years for example. If you have reached this 6 year limit they either open a permanent position for you (in which case you become a civil servant) or you are out, no matter how good or bad you are at your job. And since it is very difficult to justify new positions, especially in the time of crisis, then most usually you have to go.

So the question is how do you find a new job if you love being an EU-funded project manager?

jobsearch

I searched extensively online and I found no appropriate solution. I still cannot believe that those hiring personnel to work on EU-funded projects are not obliged by the EC to advertise the position in a central place so that all Europeans can apply! I have been working for example for an ERANET project: there is nowhere I can find if there are any other ERANETs looking for a project manager! I have to look at hundreds of websites in order to find this information and in this search some inside knowledge is necessary to succeed in obtaining it.

In the context of a course on “Innovation in the Public Sector” for my MSc in Public Policy and Management I decided to focus on this very important issue. I came up with the idea of HorizonTap, whose full business model you can read/download below. I would like however to summarize some of the main points here:

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