Funding and Research

science_image_0The meeting on “Funding and Research” (University Sapienza, Villa Mirafiori – 20 may 2015 — Clik here for the complete programme) was co-organized by Science & Philosophy Colloquia and Roars. There were contributions by Emiliano Ippoliti (Sapienza Departments of Philosophy, Physics and Mathematics), Donald Gillies (University College London) and Francesco Sylos Labini (Enrico Fermi Center, CNR and Roars). In what follows you may find the abstract of the contributions, the slides of the three presentations and the videos.

 

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Emiliano Ippoliti,  “La scoperta scientifica. Metodi e politiche” 

Transformative research not only enables much faster cognitive progress than the translational (non-transformative) one, but in most case permit us to get knowledge that is not accessible from the latter. But embracing transformative research implies big risks both for researchers and funding institutes. This is an epistemic and economic risk, which generates conservative and non-creative policies and choices. The problem of the frontier problem—i.e. the problem of choosing a research problem or project to work on at the research frontier or of choosing which research proposals to fund—remains hard to approach. But I argue that in the last 40 years we have really improved our understanding of ways of advancing knowledge. Thus we are now in the position to put in use and refine this understanding in order to produce better and better policies–capable of fostering transformative research by means of a methodological pluralism.

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Donald Gillies , “Random choice vs peer review”

 

This question can be broken down into al least two issues: how to evaluate the outputs of research and how to fund potentially innovative research. Donald Gillies (UCL), author of the book How should research be organized? (2008, College Publications), argues that a widely-used method of research funding is through competitive grants, where the selection of which of the applications to fund is made using anonymous peer review.  He will argue that the system would work more efficiently if the selection were made by random choice rather than peer review.  The peer review system has defects which have been revealed by recent criticisms, and the paper gives one such criticism due to the Nobel prize winner Sir James Black.  It is then shown, in support of Sir James’ position, that the use of anonymous peer review leads to a systemic bias in favour of mainstream research programmes and against minority research programmes.  This in turn leads to the stifling of new ideas and of innovation.  This thesis is illustrated by the example of the recent discovery of the cause of cervical cancer – a discovery which has generated substantial profits for pharmaceutical companies.  It is then shown that selection by random choice eliminates this systemic bias, and consequently would encourage new ideas and innovation.

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Francesco Sylos Labini Excellence versus Reality

Rewarding what is today recognised as excellence is trivial. The real problem is to understand whom to reward today, among the large magma of good quality researchers, and how to pick those who would become excellent tomorrow. This problem is commonly approached funding only a small number of projects, but at the same time this is the reason why such a strategy is not the most effective one. However this is what happens both at European and national level across Europe. Science is a social process. The evaluation of scientists needs to give space to different degrees of quality: the pursuit of excellence is only the mirage reflection of an ideological and unrealistic dogma.

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Videos

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