Let the Researchers Rule Over Themselves

In order to leave – as Bjorklund in the DN article describes it – ”a social democratic Jante Law, according to which it has not been good to invest in an ’elite'” behind us, it is proposed in the research bill which was presented on October 11, for example, that the Swedish Research Council is responsible for creating an elite programme for young researchers. The Swedish Research Council has also been asked to prepare a detailed proposal for evaluation by the peer review system, in which foreign researchers, every four or five years, assess the quality of the research conducted in various disciplines in our educational institutions. This is meant to replace the previous bibliometric system, where quality is assessed based on how much a researcher publishes in scientific journals and how often his or her articles are cited in other scientific articles. The purpose of the change is to create incentives to take risks rather than to mass-produce research studies tailored to colleagues and editors of scientific journals. The same purpose underlies the programmes that the Swedish Research Council will be tasked to prepare for ‘the elite’ among the established researchers, which will make it possible for a long time (seven to ten years) to engage in ”research with high risk and high potential”. The Swedish Research Council also gets 15 million kronor per year over four years to fund research schools for “teachers and preschool teachers”. In addition, the government is providing 32 million kronor more for ”needs-driven research for greater equality”. In consultation with the Swedish Research Council, the agency for innovation systems, Vinnova, will allocate funds to ”research of the highest scientific quality in the various scientific disciplines, and that which is expected to contribute to the development and advancement of practical work towards equality within universities and colleges, as well as the private and public sectors.”

When we in this issue of Axess deal with that which today is condemned as pseudoscience, but at one time was considered cutting-edge research based on generally accepted truths, it strikes me the extent to which the problems discussed with the emergence and cementation of scientific heresies associated with that particular kind of research, could also be a consequence of the current research bill proposal. Svante Nordin discusses in his article how, over time, that which we have come to perceive as pseudoscience tends to differ from ‘true science’; the latter seems instrumental and clinical, while the former is characterised by a desirable objective, closely linked with our wants and needs. Based on Nordin’s reasoning, one could ask if there is a problem with referring, as in the research bill, in the same sentence to research maintaining ”the highest scientific quality”, while at the same time contributing to the creation of a ”practically” gender-equal business sector, or any other political objective whatsoever, which for the moment is perceived as urgent. Furthermore, this theme shows that the scientific community has historically been anything but spared from research based on scientific trends rather than on a critical search for truth. There is not much to suggest that today’s researchers in this respect differ in any substantial degree from yesterday’s. The examples given in Roger Scruton’s, Inger Enkvist’s and Germund Hesslow’s texts hardly prove to be essentially different from the ones illustrated in Svante Nordin’s and Gunnar Broberg’s articles, let alone that the political consequences of eugenics and Trofim Lysenko’s theories of acquired characteristics were extraordinary.

The risk of dominant government agencies for research is precisely that adapting to current research trends is encouraged, while rebellious behaviour, which remains the engine of the search for truth, is disparaged. When one, on the one hand, wants to create research schools for preschool teachers and, on the other hand, delegates the Swedish Research Council to lavish some ‘elite scientists’ with huge sums of money, one wonders what Jan Björklund and his kind think would happen if the resources were allocated institutionally: if one simply let professors, associate professors and doctors – within the framework of their services – research completely free, independent of the expressed or implied directives from the Swedish Research Council. At the risk of being dismissed as yet another in a series of social democratic founders of Jante Law, I suspect that it would both save money and contribute to a more pluralistic and diverse research environment in Sweden.

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