Sep 9, 2010


The man in the photo above is the UK Business Secretary Vincent Cable (I hope I have highlighted enough the word Business in this statement). In a radio interview on the 8th of September, the above politician said that presently in the UK
"45% of grants were not of excellent standard"
It is a very worrisome figure, isn't it? Now, the bare truth is that politicians obviously now very little, usually nothing, about science. I don't mean popular science, I mean scientific research, although I believe that many of them do not know either. Therefore, to make this kind of strong assertion, the politicians rely on certain "objective" quantities. In the case of science, they forced the idea that number of publications, weighted by the so-called impact index of the journals, and citations are good numbers. Number of patents  as well. 

Another criteria which is more subjective is called impact. Impact means how the society will benefit from the research. Sounds pretty noble, but again, after throwing away all the nice words, the true meaning is how much money the research can generate in the short term. Money and short term are really the key terms here. And not only politicians are to blame here, but we as well. Everybody has a relatively short lifespan in history terms. We all are interested in our lives, which is obviously okay. So, we want results from our invested money and we want it fast. Everything boils down to that. Therefore, a good translation of the assertion of Mr. Cable would be
"45% of grants do not generate enough money in the short term"
Although this would be the honest thing to say, it obviously is not nice. Now, what if I say that 99% of all politicians are not of excellent standards and we should cut their budget? I guess it is not very difficult to come up with much more reasonable numbers to evaluate this, right?

Let me just finish with another statement. There is one and only one measure of excellent research: seriousness. It does not matter what is the subject. It may be the less money-generating of all subjects. It may be a completely abstract mathematical theorem. It will be excellent when the researchers involved really care about the subject and explore the area with seriousness and professionalism. That is excellence. No single set of numbers can measure it and that is the problem. To evaluate true excellence requires also true excellence. It requires effort and is time consuming. It requires hard and deep thinking and analysis. Even if a study does not get published, even if it is not cited by anyone presently, if it was done seriously, it is excellent. 

It's easy to agree with the above arguments, isn't it? But are you really kin to stick to them in your life? Think seriously.

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