We cherish an image in which scientists, through curiousity, provide driven undeniable knowledge. Knowledge what society is in touch with. This image is said to be incomplete. But besides incomplete it is even harmful. Any blow on that image affects the trust of citizens in science and ultimately threatens the survival of science. While science is one of the driving forces of modern society.
What does the reality of the image differ from? To begin with, science does not provide absolute certainty that scientists can have different opinions. At the forefront of science rages a continuous conflict of interest, in which new knowledge is filtered in pruning debates. But where obsolete knowledge is sometimes held too long.
In addition, scientists are paid with career concerns and a personal economic interest in new, interesting results. Scientists are ordinary people with everyday motives. They sometimes apply measurement data, make payments by industry, or just are not so good in their field.
Recommendation: We need to inform the public about the uncertainty of scientific results, the way in which results are achieved and the everyday motives of scientists. This prevents theatrical public incomprehension of discussing scientists, about knowledge that does not prove to be true and misleading scientists.
Does the taxpayer get value for money? It is a valid question at a time when science is funded largely by public funds. The answer is unfortunately that many scientific results are more important for the scientist than for society. It is the result of numeracyism in the assessment of science. Scientists are judged by the number of publications in magazines with high impact factors. It makes it quick or a lot of publishing results the highest goal of scientists. Whether they answer socially questionable questions is secondary. It also means that risk-free long-term research is hardly financed.
In particular, life sciences have turned into a ‘promovendus’ factory. PhD students and postdocs do the bulk of the work, but without a lot of career prospects. But they will not hear from their guides because they do not want to discourage their cheap forces.
Recommendation: Formulate new criteria for assessing scientists and scientific results, and expressing the social value of the research emphatically.
Recommendation: Involve social stakeholders in the distribution of research money and in setting priorities in the research.
The public has a lot of faith in the institute of science, more than in politics, journalism or business. But the time we trust a scientific “expert” is long gone. Their opinions are often contradictory.
It can be traced to information crime and changed authority relations. The huge global knowledge production leads to hyperspecialization, resulting in a loss of overview. At the same time, the Internet makes it easier to interpret the information beyond the traditional frameworks. A range of opinions is the result.
Recommendation: vertel het publiek hoe de wetenschap écht werkt. Diepgaande verschillen van inzicht zijn onderdeel van de wetenschap en politieke discussies kunnen niet door wetenschap alleen worden beslecht. Wetenschappelijke discussies zijn ook vaak morele of politieke discussies waarin wereldbeelden en ideeën over waar de samenleving naar toe moet een grote rol spelen.
Reliability & corruption
The current organization of the scientific system puts pressure on the integrity of individual researchers. Checking out the number of published articles, plus the personal career motivations of scientists, means that the quality is under pressure. It produces many moderate, uninteresting, sometimes bad, and once-even fraudulent publications on which science does not serve, but those researchers need to survive.
In addition, more and more research takes place in cooperation with private parties. Such collaborations often yield useful results, but they also create institutional and personal economic interest conflicts. That is inevitable and also not fundamentally wrong, but it requires great vigilance.
Recommendation: The financial dependence of third parties brings with it shadows and risks that can only be minimized by strict agreements in advance and strict supervision.
Recommendation: Let public view how scientific decisions about social issues are taken. Make clear that the interests that play a role are not per se harmful, negotiation is part of the process. When speaking to researchers at congresses, in the public and in the media, one has to think that they also have personal motives and analyze and value their arguments based on it.
Scientific information has emerged from a question of accountability for the use of tax money. These counselors maintain the image of noble scientists and undeniable knowledge, because that’s “selling” the best. Journalists deal with lack of time, money and ‘broadcasting space’. Scientific news should also be short, concise and ‘fun’.
In addition, science journalism is almost entirely about clear facts, the process of science is barely paying attention. The practice of scientific work does not come to light.
Recommendation: Journalists of the caliber Joris Luyendijk should be able to expose the mechanisms to science
Democracy and policy
Science has become an institutionalized capital-intensive social activity and must be treated as such. Democratic society has the right to decide on the science agenda. Because science is not worthless, even basic science. For example, do we invest in the Higgs particle or in a malaria vaccine?
Science is indispensable in political judgment and decision-making, and for informed social debate. However, her role is under pressure. Politicians and policy makers go selectively with findings from research. Job Search does not get too full since. Continuously there are experts who dispute the judgment of others. Social organizations come with counter-expertise. Science that wants to give advice is often politicized.
Recommendation: Both in basic and applied research, society must help to identify research priorities. Science can not scientifically determine its own course. This requires broad debates and considerations. The agenda of science is a matter of society.
Recommendation: Contradictory insights about scientific research that want to advise policy and politics should not be heard in the background but on an audience stage. More often, researchers come to the House of Representatives, be less afraid of conflicting advice, try to find out where the differences are, cut any problems in parts if there is no overall solution. Allow experiments, learn from wrong paths.
A crisis of the entire university
The problems of production-driven scientific research not only play in life sciences and science, but also in the humanities and social sciences. The humanities discipline has set aside its task of educating teachers and is now focusing mainly on research. But the direct social justification for this is unclear and it produces many results that nobody’s waiting for. Social sciences also play the main role in the international debate and are getting less attention from social issues in their own country.
University width means that the ideal of higher education for many has gone out on a fiasco. There are good reasons to doubt the level of today’s graduates. The quality of secondary education leaves much to be desired and many graduates have difficulty finding a job on a level.
The perverse funding stimuli already explain a lot. If society increases the number of graduates, it should not be surprising that the quality per unit of product decreases. Moreover, the excessive growth of the number of students has undermined the university system too much.
Recommendation: Reinstates the university studies humanities and social sciences, focus less on research and more on education.
Recommendation: Teachership as a professional profile for academics must be honored, with matching rewards.