Monday, April 18, 2011

Robert Bosch Foundation: Seven points to improve research

In the aftermath of the plagiarism affair that led to the withdrawal of German defense minister zu Guttenberg's doctor title and, eventually, his resignation, the Robert Bosch Foundation invited a panel of experts to formulate ways to improve the conditions under which research is conducted. The outcome is a seven point paper "to assure integrity and quality in scientific research." You can download the paper (PDF) here. Since it's in German (and I realized Google translate doesn't cope well with academic-style German), here is a rough translation:

(All awkward grammar is entirely my fault.)

"1. Mitigation of publication flood

The number of publications around the world should be reduced (relative to the growing number of scientists) and thus - against the economic interests of publishers - also the number of journals. This is the only way to ensure that this important basis for assessing the quality of research will again consist of reflected and carefully evaluated results. And only then researchers will be able to again take sufficient note of relevant results and findings from their field.

2. Basic insights need permanent funding

Science needs durable and reliable funding, because the search for something new and for an increased understanding of nature follows radically different laws than a commercial enterprise. Of course academic institutions have to deal responsibly with their funds. We have to vehemently object however the expectation that academic institutions have to make direct financial profit or are evaluated by strongly economically oriented criteria. Rather, we should work together, even more than is already done today, to highlight the high intrinsic value of knowledge gain for the general public.

3. More emphasis on the content of scientific achievements

In the allocation of research funds it should be content that is assessed, not mindless promises of success of practical implementation. The qualitative assessment of the scientific work of a scientist or a researcher should at least equal in importance the quantitative bibliometric performance indicators. The sheer number of publications is not a valid criterion.

4. Proscription of strategic authorship

Authorship of a scientific publication requires substantial contribution to the content of to-be-published work. Authorship has become a currency of science, which is rewarded with money. The system for performance-based allocation of funds should therefore carefully investigate the actual contributions of the authors and proscribe a merely strategic authorship without substantial participation.

5. Researchers must write their own research proposals

External funding is an important competitive component of the academic system. Due to the trend to demand very high shares of external funding, the pressure has increased so much that a professional application system has formed, one in which scientists no longer write the research proposals themselves, but, in extreme cases, agencies formulate standardized applications. But scientific concepts need to be written by the researchers themselves. Ghostwriters must not be tolerated, not even in composite applications where parts written by different scientists are often "smoothed" by agencies.

6. Transparency in the presentation of data collection

Science needs transparency, despite the increasing complexity. Rapid technological progress, together with an excessive competition leads to more complex, and difficult to verify experiments. Without transparent and accurate representations of data collection and the scientific approach undertaken, more mistakes and improbities occur which jeopardizes the substance of science.

7. Good research takes time

Development and implementation of sound projects are not compatible with short-term contracts. The pressure generated by short-term contracts leads scientists and researchers to carry out small projects with no substantial knowledge gain and to publish fragments. Only contract terms that offer, through sensible conditions, the possibilities to plan long-term projects (esp. for young researchers) allow the quality of research indispensable for international competition."

This sounds very Germenglish, even to me ;-) Gee, all these many-syllable words and convulated grammatic constructs. I had to look up "improbity," and I'm not even sure I know what the German translation "Unredlichkeit" means (literally it means "something one doesn't speak of"). In any case, I hope it's roughly understandable. I think these are all very good points. However, I wasn't even aware that ghostwriting of proposals is an issue, I've never heard of this.

Do you have anything to add?


  1. was heisst Unredlichkeit ueberhaupt? Habe zwar den Satz im Paper gefunden, klarer ist es mir deswegen nicht geworden :)

  2. "redlich" heisst sowas wie anständig oder ehrlich, unredlich entsprechend das Gegenteil und Unredlichkeit ist wohl das Nomen dazu. Nicht, dass sich dieses Wort tatsächlich in meinem aktiven Wortschatz befindet... Vermutlich hat das irgendein emeritierter Prof für Literatur verbockt ;-)

  3. Kopfschüttel.
    Vielleicht symptomatisch, daß das Wort aus dem aktiven Sprachschatz der heutigen Generation verschhyterefwunden ist?

    7:34 AM, April 18, 2011

  4. Dafür haben wir so Begriffe wie Outsourcing und Trashtalk dazu bekommen, ist das nix? ;-)

  5. Google Translate is funny:

    tom: What's bad faith at all? That although the sentence in the paper found, it is clear
    I do not therefore become

    Bee: "honest" means something like decent or honest, dishonest according to the opposite, and dishonesty is probably the noun it. Not that this word is actually in my active vocabulary ... Probably has some Emeritus Professor of Literature bungle

    Georg: Kopfschüttel.
    Perhaps symptomatic that the word is verschhyterefwunden from the active vocabulary of today's generation?

    Bee: We have received so terms such as outsourcing and trash talk to, that's nothing?

    Pennsylvania "Dutch": Throw me down the stairs my shoes.

  6. 1. Mitigation of publication flood

    The number of publications around the world should be reduced...

    OK, stop right there. It's hard for me to continue after reading that. So OK, reduce the number of papers from Germany, great, that would be a nice start. But how can anyone possibly stop the flood of papers from all over the world?

    What will you do? Write a letter?

    Dear People's "Republic" of China,

    The next time Eric Verlinde writes a paper, please don't publish 10,000 papers in response.

    The World

    You're no longer going to stop the flood on a global level than you're going to stop climate change, ocean pollution, or overpopulation, which is the real problem.

    Too many people ... preaching practices,
    Too many waiting for their lucky break

    ... Paul McCartney, Ram (1971)

    In truth there IS a solution, in fact there are 7 billion ones:

    Each individual, must, act, responsibly.

  7. 1) Quality not quantity. This violates the managerial founding postulate. Abstract universal metrics not local contents are the basis of administration. Process not product matters.
    2) Fund understanding not politics. Management seeks subordinates whose expertise is their loyalty, and are therefore reliable.
    3) Fund achievement not persistence. A 10% chance of success is DCF/ROI intolerable. A 100% surity of failure - PERT chart, GANT chart, budget, spread sheet, funding, staffing - is a business plan.
    4) No author mercyhumping Management owns others' productivity. The man banging the drum rows the boat, not the oarsmen.
    5) No ghostwriting Managment secures its position when subordinates are process incompetent to retain their employment. The important transistor component is the middle gate - wherein a weak signal controls strong flows.
    6) Data is objective and falsifiable Society must bow to culture, reality is defined by advocacy. Data is contextual and situational. Diversity!
    7) Bread requires leavening and proofing. Spreadsheets have cells not vistas. For the cubicled fungible, it is matsoh all the way down.

    "Unredlichkeit" - "something one doesn't speak of." French is needed, the corresponding word having all its letters silent. Uncle Al adds two points:

    A) Cultivate the prickly Gifted. Buckets don't drill wells.

    B) Fund the insubordinate young. The greatest obstacle to understanding reality is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. Nephelococcygia is nice; reality is easier to spell.

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  9. In other words, while "publication flood" is a righteous complaint, but further given that individual responsibly is as far as I can see the only solution, and I don't see THAT happening anytime soon, what it basically comes down to is the haystack keeps getting larger, but the small number of needles isn't increasing at all.

    Shrug. Takes more digging, I guess. More work to do today, than yesterday.

    But when, seriously, has that ever not been so?

    Case in point:

    I just read the MOST amazing thing at Universe Today this morning, Bee and Stefan. Click here to read it.

    Since this is in YOUR specialty, Bee, then YOUR opinion would be greatly appreciated. Myself? I have my bullshitometer batteries fully charged and am prepared to call foul ball, or am I being too cynical, too skeptical?

    For those with carpal tunnel syndrome or hyperlinkphobia, my question about the article in brief:

    What the heck is Europhysics Letters, and should we pay any attention to it? Massimo Villata of the observatory of Turin posits "General relativity is CPT invariant" ... "When you reverse the equations of general relativity in charge, parity and time for either the particle or the field the particle is traveling in, the result is a change of sign in the gravity term, implying so-called antigravity between the two."

  10. These are all excellent suggestions/guidelines.

    The problem is going to be with implementing them.

    It will take considerable time to walk the system back to a rational process, given that things have slid down the slippery slope for decades.

    Some clever people must come up with mechanisms for encouraging scientists and institutions to implement these desiderata.

    Corrective incentives might work better than meat-axe prohibitions and rules. But any sensible methods should be on the table.

    We all could profit from a return to a more general and global committment to integrity.

    Money should follow, not lead.


  11. Money should follow, not lead.

    Agreed, but as you stated, it is unfortunately the other way around.

    Here are some notable exceptions however, who recognize what you're saying, billionaires all, who are giving money to the intellectual leaders whom, if properly funded, will improve Humanity:

    - Paul Allen
    - Robert Bigelow
    - Richard Branson
    - Melinda Gates
    - Dean Kamen
    - Mike Lazaridis
    - Elon Musk
    - James Harris Simons
    - Steve Wozniak

    Please God, don't let those be the ONLY rich people who don't suck, I would very much like to add to that list. Who are they?

  12. We always have less money, than the applications of research. The basic research should be subject of public feedback and prioritization by its return rate of investments. The contemporary situation, when theorists are hunting ghosts around gravitational waves, WIMPs or Higgs boson, whereas they're openly fu*ing cold fusion research is unjustifiable with all socio-economical laws.

  13. Nice mouth, Zephir. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth? Come ON man. Cold Fusion ?! Do you know any Science at all, or is "hype" your thing? It used to be mine, but I got over it, so I'm not criticizing. Ok, a bit.

    Add Gordon Moore to my list. William Shockley hated him, and for that alone, props.

  14. As no one seems to have pointed out the obvious, I guess it's up to me - I assume you meant to write 'Robert Bosch Foundation' in the title and not the 'Robert Koch Foundation'?

  15. Indeed! The Koch brothers [of American politics] have an entirely different agenda.

  16. Too much stuff published, the flood ... yes indeed. Many faults of that, such as too much to wade through and really important ideas can get lost, the time and effort that could have been better spent, the taking of teachers away from teaching, etc. Also, we need a journal/s dedicated to boat-rocking ideas (there already are, like Physics Essays that I published in, and Foundations of Physics and Il Nuovo Cimento do to to milder extent but not major enough to be "required reading.")

  17. Bee - off topic, but any thoughts on that new Nature piece on gravity-resonance-spectroscopy with slow neutrons? Perhaps you have access to Nature, I do not. Well, just snow that is ;)

  18. Snowboarder who wishes to remain nameless -

    It looks like it's shameless BBC hype, see Not Even Wrong.

  19. I wasn't even aware that ghostwriting of proposals is an issue, I've never heard of this.

    Very sad if this goes on. I can see an 89-yr-old Nobel laureate in poor health have a grandchild grad student write their stuff, otherwise, it's pretty sick and pathetic for a professional trying to keep their job flooding the industry with fake papers written by others when it's all from the same source. I think the word for that is .... cheating? Yeah, but I'd like to know of a single confirmed case. Fudging results? That I'm heard of. But ghostwriting? Bizarre.

  20. Hi Steven,

    Regarding the number of publ around the world, I had the same thought. That list is a start, but more important would be to come up with practical changes. Regarding the ghostwriting, sad but true, it's pretty much a logical consequence: People who live for their research are forced to spend a significant amount of their time on writing well-sounding stories, assembling reasonable looking budgets and fight with online application systems. It's simply not a good investment of their time. The thing to do however is not to hire ghostwriters but obviously to make grant applications leaner. I've written my share of these things and the annoying part of it is usually not the scientific part, that's the easy one. The annoying part is that you'll have to bring your CV in some particular order, pipe in your publication list in some standard format, have to figure out taxes and overhead, come up with a ten step plan what you'll be doing in the next 5 years, etc etc. (Not to mention that you might find yourself having to write an abstract in Swedish.) I really wish there was some standard format for the CV + Publ part, that alone would save a lot of time. Best,


  21. Hi Rare Hand, Robert,

    Oops. Thanks for mentioning, I've fixed that. Robert Koch is a German politician, no clue what was on my mind there... ("Koch" means "cook"). Best,


  22. Hi Snowboarder,

    I actually presently don't have access to Nature (or any other subscription journals for that matter), being on leave and all. But I'll check this out, sounds interesting actually, hype or not. Best,


  23. Hi Snowboarder,

    Not having read the paper, it sounds like a follow-up to this earlier experiment with bouncing neutrons in the gravitational field. Best,


  24. Hi Bee,


    Our academic system needs a "Entschleunigungsstrategie" that the Researchers again provides the opportunity for critical reflection

    I would suggest that as a first step they give a name to their plans that are more concise then being just one letter shorter than the alphabet :-)



  25. Hi Bee,

    “Entschleunigungsstrategie” = “Deceleration strategy”

    This has me confused, as America has already instituted such a plan, only they call it “recession”, however with a difference as this time it’s on a global scale. The term is more concise and it has the effect to decelerate everything; and we thought we’ve seen the last of good old Yankee knowhow. Anyway it’s more concise than Globalenentschleunigungsstrategie



  26. Hi Bee,

    All levity aside it’s good to see that things are being taken more seriously and at higher levels. However as with any action requiring a vision today it should be introduced with a mission statement, which has the objective and methodology to be more clearly understood. In such regard I would contend it has already been written some time ago and yet has gone mostly ignored; with it stated as follows:

    “The difference between a good mechanic and a bad one, like the difference between a good mathematician and a bad one, is precisely this ability to select the good facts from the bad ones on the basis of quality. He has to care! This is an ability about which normal traditional scientific method has nothing to say. It's long past time to take a closer look at this qualitative preselection of facts which has seemed so scrupulously ignored by those who make so much of these facts after they are "observed." I think that it will be found that a formal acknowledgment of the role of Quality in the scientific process doesn't destroy the empirical vision at all. It expands it, strengthens it and brings it far closer to actual scientific practice.”

    -Robert M. Pirsig- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - page 253

  27. Hi Phil,

    The interesting thing about the wordcreation "Entschleunigungsstrategie" is that "Entschleunigung" isn't really a word in German (i.e. it's in use, but I'm not sure it's in the dictionary). Yes, it means 'deceleration' but in German the expression for acceleration is the same as for deceleration (or for a change of direction), which is "Beschleunigung." Not that it actually matters. Do you really think that a recession would impact the number of publications?(Normalized to the number of researchers?) Best,


  28. Hi Bee,

    I think experience has taught us its human nature that when resources are plentiful many tend to waste them, and yet when scarce are forced to maximize them. That’s not to say I agree we need to give in to our nature, yet rather be simply more truthful with ourselves to have it recognized. To put it more plainly I would like to see humanity strive to become more natural, that is in the more general sense as having things like least action and symmetry serving more as our guide as to what represents to be quality.



  29. Hi Phil,

    Well, how can we be not natural? You must know, we live in the best of all possible worlds, just that we might not understand in which way it is the "best." Best,


  30. Hi Bee,

    In a word quality is difficult if not impossible to quantify. It should also be plain by now that nature too is the same, as representing being both a manifestation of the quanta and the quala. That is why I’m convinced that as much or more attention should be given to the foundations, as to the consequences which can resultantly stem from them. I would also point out that past periods of enlightenment didn’t simply originate from the practice of the scientific method, as most considered it did, yet coexisted and was influenced by a more general attitude and aspiration.



  31. Here in America, there is some disagreement on how to set up the best of all possible administrations.

    A sizeable number of people believe a Donald Trump candidacy is a cause for celebration.

    Others are a bit less enthusiastic.
    They say: "Is his hair natural?"

    American politics - you gotta love it! (never lacking in comedy)

  32. Robert, Donald Trumps hair may not be natural but there is a good reason for his combover besides his being follically challenged. There is a rumor going around around that in his outdoor appearances he always faces into the wind.

    He uses a very stiff hair spray that causes the hair to lift up at the front as one unit. As the hair raises, (it is thought that the combover may be the origin of the term "hair raising") air then is allow to spill out on the sides of his head. This allows the combover to resettle on his head. A very low frequency oscillation of his combover moving up and down then ensues.

    I have had it on good authority from people watching this effect in person that it has a mesmerizing effect. A low frequency sub audible audio frequency occurs along with the visual oscillation that incapacitates the listener. It is said that the combined visual and audio effects of the combover oscillating has the unconscious effect of making the listener believe that they are in the presence of something mysterious and supernatural. Many individuals listening then believe that Mr. Trump is a prophet that is imparting great wisdom.

  33. Maybe research proposals need to be measured like publications. It will help with points 1.,4., and 5. (I assume scientific papers are not ghost-written.)

  34. Hi Bee,

    I realize it’s off topic, yet it was something which I meant to mention earlier as being perhaps something having escaped your attention. That being what you missed pointing out is your visitor count having exceeded the two million mark a while ago (with it standing as I write this now 2,027,371). I would then also have to concede that there are times when the quanta can have the quala become more evident. Then of course this apparent oversight is totally understandable, as you’ve literally have had you hands full as of late ;-)



  35. Hi Phil,

    Thanks. We had noticed, though with a day or two delay. Yet another reminder for the arrow of time ;-) Best,


  36. Hi Bee & Stefan,

    So you actually did take note of it, although a little late. This has you again able to be distinguished from some other science bloggers, that as having a demonstrated greater capacity for humility;-) This exchange has had another thought cross my mind and that is to wonder if you’ve archived you blog since its inception and not simply trusted posterity to the cloud.

    My main reason for asking being is if for nothing else (as it’s certainly worth more), it could serve as a diary/autobiography of sorts that could prove invaluable for your daughters in later years. That is how better to get to know ones parents, then to be able to read some of their thought’s from the past (even before they being a reality) as to have that arrow of time you mentioned able to be retraced rather than simply be followed.



  37. Yes, we did archive this blog once or twice, though we should probably update the backup.

  38. Hi Bee & Stefan,

    I then am very happy for your daughter’s as they will have something that few children have. Then again it may be like when Ricky reminded Lucy at times you may have “some splainin to do”. That is this could prove even more difficult than having things understood by your Grandmother;-)



  39. Bee - thanks for the link to your prior post on neutron spectoscopy. Also found a pdf from a talk given last year here.

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