One of the most common prejudices against the EU is that a group of technocrats in Brussels is producing so many new cards and rules that life rarely makes life better, but is always more complicated.
The truth is: This may be true of paper and complexity, but the result is sometimes real revolutions, also in terms of education and science. Erasmus, for example, as the world’s most popular exchange program with legendary status. Or the European Research Council, which in just a few years has become a coveted pioneer of international excellence in finance.
What is currently being promoted by the European Union Commission, the French Presidency of the European Union, leading research institutions and with the support of 200 others fits perfectly into this scheme. A process that is difficult to explain in a few sentences because of the overlapping forms of participation and its stages.
But the ambitions behind it are huge. In the end, there could indeed be a reform of scientific performance appraisal, which many considered to be years overdue, but never beyond the level of vociferous expressions of sympathy.
More quotes and publications, more third-party funding, more materials to publish
Scientific careers are still built largely by the amount of research funding (third party funding) and the number of publications and citations in scientific journals that have been ranked as highly as possible. The two are closely related: Those who are quoted and published often have a better chance of having their third-party funding requests approved. Giving him/her more material to post again.
Only those who can concentrate on their work from morning to evening and, when necessary, at night and who do not have to take care of any children or relatives at the same time can enter into such a system. It also spends as little time as possible in university teaching, science communication, or other forms of participation in the interaction between science and society.
This obviously leads to a demographic and content narrowing. However, for a long time, no one in science was bothered by this, because it corresponded to the narrow perspective of those who managed to get into management positions in this way.
In recent years, there has been at least a rhetorical shift, a meaning: we need more diversity in science, because only then will it be able to find creative answers to the great questions of our time. That’s why we need to change the performance rating.
But little happened. Because using scales is very easy. Because no one has initiated the change. Until now.
For the first time in March 2021, scientists and scientific organizations, organized by the European Union Commission, discussed how the needed reform could be implemented in a way that is ultimately not limited to paper. Based on the resulting report, we now proceed. Step 1: All research and funding institutions wishing to participate in the reform are asked to contact us. More than 200 have already answered the call.
DFG and Helmholtz: ‘The essential questions are not clear’
Step two: In order to increase public pressure on expectations, the Paris Open Science Conference, with the support of the French Presidency of the European Union, published an Evaluation of the Paris Call on Research Evaluation at the beginning of February, but to find new binding quality criteria that consider the actual impact search results and the way in which they appeared.
A team made up of the European Union Commission, Association of European Universities and Science Europe has now begun to work and draft concrete future standards and principles, with close support from a core group of European science organisations, which for Germany includes the DFG and Helmholtz.
There has been speculation in the media about whether the DFG and Helmholtz are only involved in the core group to slow things down, as they are also not on the list of supporters. When asked, the DFG made it clear that it had not signed the call yet because the “basic questions are unclear”, above all the independence of science from politics and the consequences of membership “in terms of reporting and self-compliance”.
This also shows how complicated the process actually is. The European Union must remain true to itself. Perhaps, in the end, it is exactly the Brussels style required so that all the nice speeches will eventually turn into a revolution.
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