European Research Council President Helga Nowotny urges support for ‘Horizon 2020′

Here is what Nowotny had to say:

“This strong message to the leaders of Europe confirms the importance of the ERC Scientific Council’s strategy to find, fund and empower the best researchers. It is therefore vital that the future EU Research Programme ‘Horizon 2020′ – and in particular the European Research Council – will be strengthened to achieve further scientific and technological breakthroughs, leading to greater innovation in the future. We urge political leaders to listen to the unanimous voice of Europe’s researchers, both the most eminent ones and the next generation, and what they have to say to address the current economic crisis.”

I’ve underlined what I take to be key elements of the statement. The full press release is available here:

ERC_ScC_statement_nobel_letter.pdf (application/pdf Object).

I understand why Nowotny would advocate support for research in Europe — and for her own agency in particular. That is no doubt a huge part of her job description. What I find a bit strange is that her argument appeals to the linear model of knowledge production (see Pielke and Byerly 1998 for a good discussion). Nowotny, after all, is one of the main forces behind the idea of Mode 2 knowledge production.

So, I wonder: is it that Nowotny is actually against the idea of Mode 2 knowledge production and would prefer going back to something more like the linear model? Or is it that she sees the political expediency of arguing in terms of the linear model, despite the fact that she thinks it’s not a good model for how to conduct research in the 21st century? Or is there a third option?

I think much depends on how we ‘find and fund’ the best researchers. Peer review is the obvious answer to such a question. But that’s only the beginning of an old answer. What’s interesting about the ERC is that there is no requirement that researchers propose or reviewers judge potential societal impacts: excellence is the sole criterion for funding, and any impact criteria are confined to impact within the field of research. Sure, researchers may find that appealing. But it is a bit surprising to me that European decision makers do.

Nowotny has argued that attracting ‘the best’ researchers to Europe to conduct their research there is itself a positive societal impact [apologies for the link not working -- we are in the process of trying to fix the problem]. But that begs the question — assuming that the accuracy of the linear model of knowledge production is what is at stake here. Should we define ‘the best’ researchers as those who conduct ‘the best’ research according to their peers, using criteria that pay no attention to the question of societal impacts? The answer is a clear yes only if we accept the linear model. Or so I am suggesting.

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