Biomedicine in museums

Strategic research or a dash of anarchy

Together with some one hundred other hopeful Danish university academics, Søren and I spent three hours today listening to representatives of the Danish Council for Strategic Research instructing us how to write better applications for so called ‘strategic’ research projects in co-operation with Danish small and middle-sized corporations. It’s all about getting funding for projects that will promote long-term Danish economic interests; all us gathered in the room will compete for about 100 mill. euros in the September phase-2 application round. The success rate after having passed the first application round is about 33-50%, so we were all eagerly listening!

And then (inspired by Derek) I went home to read last week’s issue of Nature, in which cell biologist Theo Wallimann from ETH in Zürich writes (“European research needs a dash of anarchy”, Nature, vol. 453, p. 850) that “almost every significant breakthrough in the history of science has come about by serendipity — not as a result of strategic planning or problem-oriented and directed research”. And he continues:

Science and innovation are chaotic, stochastic processes that cannot be governed and controlled by desk-bound planners and politicians, whatever their intentions. Good scientists are by definition anarchists, who don’t want to be managed by what Gottfried Schatz of Biocenter Basel calls ‘chronoclasts’ — people whose bureaucracy steals their research time and blunts their creative potential. Good science has an inherent potential for self-organization.

What a schizophrenic day! In the morning we had our minds focused on how to get a grip on some of this strategic research money. And then, a few hours later, Wallimann’s call for a dash of anarchy.

The first thing that comes to mind is Nietzsche’s distinction between slave and master mentality.

(occasioned by Derek Lowe’s post “Anarchy in the EU” in today’s In the Pipeline)

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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