Assessment of scientists is going to be changed

Caption: Checklist for scientific career must change. Photo Pixabay

The careers of scientists and the distribution of research grants are related to the assessment of the achievements of scientists. In recent years, there has been more and more criticism of this assessment and that is why something is changing now.

“It is a subject that lives,” says chairman Pieter Duisenberg from the association of universities, VSNU. Together with the academic hospitals and science financers NWO and ZonMW, the universities will engage in discussions with scientists, unions and others in the coming year. “We want to see where we’ll land on in the coming year”.

He does not want to say much more about the possible outcomes beforehand, but there should be more appreciation for ‘team science’. “Many people contribute to the formation of new knowledge and it stings if you do not acknowledge their efforts," says Duisenberg. Now most grants and awards are still focused on individual scientists.

Furthermore, education is still very much unnoted: more appreciation for the educational achievements of teachers should lead to good teachers making a faster career at a university.

The societal impact of scientific research will also play a greater role: some scientists know how to translate the results of their research into useful or lucrative applications, and the idea is that this should be rewarded.

More topics will probably be discussed. Is everything in doubt now? Duisenberg thinks that it is not this bad. “It is not a matter of zero or one. The old ways are probably not completely gone. But we do want to take concrete steps.”

National borders
And if possible, the Dutch want to convince the rest of the world that something has to be done as well. The criticism also lives elsewhere, so why should only the Netherlands tackle this problem? “The assessment of science does not stop at national borders,” says Duisenberg. “We operate in an international context. That is why we are going to talk about it within the European universities association. NWO will add it to the agenda of European research funding agencies.”

One of the advocates for change in the assessment of scientific achievements is the Science in Transition action group, which was set up five years ago. The action group is pleased with the developments, says secretary Rinze Benedictus. “You can say that it should have happened sooner, but this is about the rate at which such changes occur.”

He is fine with that there are not any clear proposals yet. “That does justice to the process. We do not have a new approach prepared that is suitable for all disciplines. You have to talk about that.”

He does, however, find it appropriate if the number of publications and the impact factor of journals are looked at less and more at the reason why people conduct their research. “We are scientists, so we continue to publish and it will also remain important how often our articles are cited by other scientists. But we must realize that quality is more than the sum of publications and impact factors of these journals.”