The authors say they wrote in a "deliberately provocative language to evoke an emotional response." Maybe there's something wrong with me, but my only "emotional response" is that Brits have a funny idea of what's "provocative." They could probably learn a thing or two from reading certain blogs, but let's not name names. Anyway, this inspired me to come up with a worst case scenario. And since that depressed me, I'll add a best case scenario. Feel free to offer your scenario in the comments. Or, even better, post it on your blog, I'll add a link below. Rules of the game are: One utopian and one dystopian future scenario for academia in 25 years from now in less than 500 words each. (You can count words online here.)
Global competition of universities and research institutes is ranked by a tightly defined metric for scientific success (that grows out of the UK's Research Assessment Exercise). University departments turn into clubs that make deals on recruitment of star scientists. The universities have professional marketing departments that hype every paper, patent, award, and conference. Research performance as defined by The Metric becomes a prime interest of national politics and with that public accountability for all and every pen stroke spells the death for academic freedom. International companies pour money into the leading places to improve their company's image and get a hand on those scientists willing to join the industrial workforce.
Since success becomes a matter of attention rather than quality, public outreach departments schmooze their way into major newspapers and magazines. Star scientists host talkshows and give public lectures in front of thousands of people with lots of technical finesse and no content. Bribery of editors of high impact journals frequently makes headlines. Extreme competitive pressure renders unbiased peer review impossible, so it becomes replaced by "external review" from so-called "unbiased independent experts" frequently recruited among science journalists and research departments of major companies . The media wants its share of the money and eternally celebrates progress that is none, causing frustration and cynicism among the public. Like on the fish market, the winner is who screams the loudest and smells the least. Leading scientists find their private life rewritten in cheap magazines next to Hollywood starlets and members of the royal families.
One part of researchers conforms to the new rules and accordingly optimizes their output, connections and social skills. However, a small but increasing fraction of researchers finds higher education has turned into a farce. They refuse to participate in what they argue will eventually entirely stifle knowledge discovery and cause a breakdown of modern societies who are in need of constant innovation. These researchers form a scientific underground, a globally operating association of scientists most of which have to finance themselves from non-research jobs. Belittled by the star scientists, the scientific underground is helped by a few philanthropists' generous donations that allows to maintain online networks and occasional meetings. The resentment on both sides grows.
John had just handed out the second hot-dog when Lisa's cab came to a screeching halt directly under the no-parking sign. She jumped out and waved her flexiscreen: "Look at this!" John focused on the mustard to prevent his eyes from rolling heavenward. "That's 1.99," he said.
Getting a little carried away here ;-)
Fed up with the inefficient use of resources in academia, scientists decide to take matters of management into their own hand. Instead of further conforming to nonsensical policies and wasting time being swept away by emergent community trends, they systematically study and monitor the dynamics of knowledge discovery itself. Based on scientific models that are constantly refined, they put into place a decentralized application- and hiring system that makes only moderate use of metrics and instead relies on accountability of peer's judgement. All research results are available open access, and suggested research projects and proposals are frequently openly available too, though many of these feature remain subject to constant flow and debate.
Transformative research is implemented depending on the field and stage of research where a community sees the need, and measures are taken to balance competition with collaboration. Social networking tools are refined to optimally filter information and connect dispersed knowledge and researchers all over the globe. Not only national boundaries dissolve: also the educational boundaries of academia soften and participation in research projects more often encompasses a variety of contributors with different background.
But most importantly, scientists' skills and interests become individually recognized, supported, and put to best use. The earlier one-size-fits-all positions that combined the duties of teaching, researching, reviewing, communicating, mentoring, administrating and managing are broken down into different education and career paths. This way, duties other than research are significantly reduced and talents are optimally utilized.
These improvements unleash innovative power that overhauls some sleepy research areas and creates several new ones. Inspired by this success, leaders of a few future-oriented democracies decide to base their increasingly dysfunctional opinion- and decision making processes on modern scientific models. This results in particular in a dramatically different approach to the communication of information, the aggregation of opinions, and significant changes to the content and structure of the educational system.
This era would later become known as the 2nd scientific revolution, but John didn't know that. He was sitting in a seminar and had just decided the women speaking was clearly insane. But he liked the theme she used for the slides; he had not seen it before and wondered where to get it. She flipped to the next slide. "I'm not insane," John read "The theme is called "Sparkles in red" and is shareware."