Side Effects of the Production of Nonsense in Science: 'Crowding-Out' Effects and New Bureaucracy
The artificially staged competitions in science for publications and citations, but also for third-party projects (financing), have caused the emergence of more and more nonsense in the form of publications and projects. This is associated with a variety of side effects, some of which have serious consequences. The intrinsic motivation of those scientists involved in research is increasingly replaced by a system of ''stick and carrot''. Indeed, this is not the only crowding-out effect that we can observe. In addition, a new bureaucracy has evolved which ensures that more and more people employed in the research system spend more and more time on things that have nothing to do with true research. Both effects cause a gradual deterioration within many scientific disciplines, but they are advertised under labels such as ''more excellence'' and ''more efficiency''.
Some of the crowding out effects triggered by competitions for publications and projects were already previously addressed in this contribution. Here we will show how this crowding-out effects harm universities and the scientific world.
• Crowding-out of intrinsic motivation by stick and carrot
Carrots and sticks replace the taste for science (Merton 1973) which is indis-
pensable for scientific progress. A scientist who does not truly love his work will never be a great scientist. Yet exactly those scientists who are intrinsically motivated are the ones whose motivation is usually crowded out the most. They are often rather unconventional people who do not perform well in standardized competitions, and they do not feel like constantly being forced to work just to attain high scores. Therefore, a lot of potentially highly valuable research is crowded out along with intrinsic motivation as well.
• Crowding-out of unconventional people and approaches by the mainstream
Both original themes and unconventional people have little in the way of
chances in a system based on artificially staged competitions. The peer-review process causes potential authors and project applicants in both the competition for publication and the competition for third-party funding (their projects are also judged by peers) to converge upon mainstream topics and approaches, as novel ideas and approaches get rarely published or financed. However, scientific geniuses were hardly ever mainstream before their theories or methods were accepted. They are often quite unconventional in their way of working and, therefore, do not perform well in assessments which are based upon the number of publications in professional journals, citations, or projects acquired. Neither Albert Einstein nor Friedrich Nietzsche would be able to pursue a scientific career under the current system.
• Crowding-out of quality by quantity
In the current system, scientific knowledge is replaced by measurable outputs.
Not the content of an article or a project counts, but the number of published and cited articles or the number and the amount of money of the acquired projects. Since the measurable output is considered to be the indicator of quality, the true quality is more and more crowded out. The need to publish constantly leaves no time to worry too long about the progress of knowledge, although this should be the real purpose of scientific activity.
• Crowding-out of content by form
Closely related to the crowding-out of quality by quantity is the crowding-out of
content by form. As content gets more trivial and inconsequential, one tries to shine with form: With complicated formulas or models, with sophisticated empirical research designs, with extensive computer simulations, and with gigantic machinery for laboratories. The actual content of research drifts into the background and the spotlight is turned on formal artistry. For example, it does not matter anymore if comparing different data sets really brings benefit to the progress in knowledge. Important is the sophistication of the method which was used for the comparison of the data sets.
• Crowding-out of research by bureaucracy
This crowding-out effect makes a significant contribution to the new bureau-
cracy described in the following section. The people employed in research such as professors, heads of institutes, research assistants, or graduate students actually spend an ever-larger portion of their time coping with research bureaucracy. This obviously includes the time it takes to write (often unsuccessful) research proposals, and later on interim and final reports: This is time a researcher must spend as a price for actually participating in the project competition. In this way, the actual research is paradoxically repressed by its advancement because the administrative requirements no longer permit research. Furthermore, each journal article submitted for publication requires an enormous effort (strategic citing, unnecessary formalization, etc.), which has nothing to do with its content. Bureaucracy, and not research, ultimately consumes most of the time that is spent on writing scientific publications in journals and on carrying out projects that do not contribute anything to scientific knowledge, but have the goal of improving the measurable output.
• Crowding-out of individuals by centers, networks, and clusters
Competitions for projects also cause individual researchers to disappear more
and more behind competence centers, networks, and clusters. Research institutions prefer to pump research money into large research networks which are supposed to provide excellence. Scientists see themselves under pressure to reinvent preferably large cooperative and long-range projects with as many research partners (network!) as possible, bringing third-party funds to their institution. Large anonymous institutions such as the EU give money to other large anonymous institutions (e.g. an excellence cluster) where the individual researcher disappears, becoming a small wheel in a big research machine.
• Crowding-out of ''useless'' basic research by application-oriented, ''useful'' research
The competition for third-party funded projects is especially driven in this way because it is believed to initiate more and more ''useful'' research; this will rapidly lead to marketable innovations and further on to more economic growth. In this way, both humanities and basic research is gradually crowded out because in these disciplines immediate usability can hardly be shown or postulated. For example, ''useful'' brain research displaces ''useless'' epistemology. However, anyone who is familiar with the history of scientific progress knows that often discoveries which were considered ''useless'' at their inception led to some of the most successful commercial applications. The at first sight ''useless'' field of philosophical logic has proven to be absolutely central to the development of hardware and software for computers.
The crowding-out effects described above vary from one scientific discipline to another, but nowadays they can found in almost every discipline. They have become obvious to such an extent that they cannot be ignored. However, politicians and managers in charge of science do not actually care about this because they want quick success that can be proven by measurable output. In turn, young scientists are socialized by the established scientific system in a way that the perverse effects caused by this development already appear to be normal to them.