The careers of scientists and the distribution of research grants are bound up with the assessment of the achievements of scientists. In recent years those assessments have been criticized more and more, which is the reason why something has to change.
“It is a topic that is being discussed widely”, as chairman Pieter Duisenberg from the association of universities VSNU confirms. Next year, together with the academic hospitals and science financiers NWO and ZonMW, the universities are going to engage in talks with scientists, trade unions and others. “We want to see next year where we end up.”
He does not want to say much about the possible results beforehand, but in any case there should be more appreciation for ‘team science’. “There are many people contributing to the formation of new knowledge and it would be unacceptable if their efforts were not acknowledged”, says Duisenberg. At present most grants and prizes are still aimed at individual scientists.
For the rest, education is still a supposititious child: more appreciation for the teaching achievements of lecturers should result in good lecturers making a career faster at the university.
Moreover, the societal impact of scientific research will play a bigger role: some scientists succeed in converting the outcome of their research appropriately into useful or lucrative applications, and that should be rewarded, is the underlying idea.
There will certainly be more subjects coming up for discussion. Is everything up in the air again now? Things will not be that serious, Duisenberg thinks. “It is not a matter of zero or one. Surely the old arrangements will not all be thrown overboard. We do want to make concrete steps, though.”
And if at all possible, the Dutch also want to convince the rest of the world that something needs to change. After all, criticism has been heard elsewhere as well, so why should the Netherlands be the only country to tackle the problems? “The assessment of science does not stop at the national borders”, says Duisenberg. “We are operating in an international context. That’s why we are going to discuss it within the association of European universities. NWO is putting it on the agenda of the European research financiers.”
Science in Transition
One of the advocates of change in the assessment of scientific achievements is the Science in Transition initiative, which was set up five years ago. This pressure group is pleased with the developments, says secretary Rinze Benedictus. “You may say that it should have been done earlier, but this is about the speed at which such changes come about.”
Benedictus thinks it is fine that there are no clear proposals on the table just yet. “That does justice to the process. We ourselves don’t have a new approach lying ready which is suitable for all specializations. You need to discuss that properly.”
He does find it absolutely right if less attention is devoted to the number of publications and the impact factor of journals, and more to the reason why people conduct their research. “We are scientists, so we will keep publishing and it will continue to be important how often our articles are cited by other scientists. However, we need to realize that quality is more than a sum total of publications and impact factors of journals.”