Once upon a time there were scientists

Once upon a time there were people with an inquisitive mind. Bewildered by the immensity of the universe, they sat under a tree, observed and tried to understand the laws of life and came with some answers. They were alone, but their contribution to science was invaluable.

Many years later these people could not believe their luck, as they were allowed to gather together in institutes and universities and share their information. In some countries even the government was interested in their discoveries and provided funding for their work. No questions were asked, total trust was given as was believe in their creative capacities. A boom in science, innovative ideas followed, together with huge numbers of meaningful scientific publications and technical developments.

Scared by their success, politicians decided to keep scientist under control. Their work was carefully scrutinised. Unhealthy competition and a lack of trust started then to creep into these institutions. Scientists were made to evaluate each other’s work and competition for money, ideas and publications poisoned scientific relationships.

But this was not enough. A further step had to be taken. Scientist were not only to be scrutinised for the value of their daily work and publications, but the government started dictating what the scientist had to do and who and which lines of research were to be funded. Detailed projects had to be written, and less and less projects were awarded. Creativity was punished, mediocrity was rewarded.

Suddenly inquisitive scientist felt trapped. To survive they had to develop a new skill: to write successful projects. Critical questions were posed: what was likely to be funded?, what would please the politicians?, would they be able to publish enough papers?, who would be most likely to evaluate the project?, would their ideas be stolen?. Competition was fierce, creativity was killed, fear of failure was growing.

The complexity of grant writing stimulated the emergency of a new class of professionals: “Professional project writers”, “ Professional project accountants”, ”Professional project coordinator managers” as well as a full army of civil servants to deal with the massive burocracy created by the body funding organisations, all paid with money allocated to “Research” of course.

But, as if these was not enough the grant giving bodies then decided to only fund “excellent scientists”, defined as those that were good or politically successful in the past, assuming that they would also be good in the future. Now these excellent scientist received all the money, and acquired total power over junior researchers. Younger scientists became a pair of obedient and underpaid hands, not allowed to think or to apply for their own original projects. Thus, no new blood no new ideas and no progress.

Eventually, the competition between excellent scientist for money and political scientific power also become fierce. War was declared. Fortunately the European community has stepped in with a fantastic plan. Money for research to be restricted to excellent scientist that collaborate between themselves. The “Road Map to Peace” of science is under the control of the EC inspectors. All research to be under the umbrella of a huge, inflexible, predictable and indestructible TITANIC project.

Inquisitive scientist where are you?
There are not even trees to sit under.

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