At the recent 4th World Conference on Research Integrity (31 May—3 June 2015, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, www.wcri2015.org), attended by around 500 participants from more than 50 countries on five continents, the ICSU Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in the conduct of Science (CFRS) organised a symposium on “Research assessment and quality in science.”
Speakers with different perspectives, from higher education to government and policy, with a national context and including young scientists, explored the implications of science assessments . The goal of the symposium was to generate discussion on how to shape assessments to facilitate scientific work of high integrity for the benefit of society. This reflected a context that Lex Bouter, Professor of Methodology and Integrity at the Free University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, characterised in his keynote as “hypercompetition” for positions, funding, and resources as a result of an exponential rise in the number of scientists in recent times.
In the CFRS symposium, Ellen Hazelkorn, Director of Research and Enterprise at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland, who has been involved in the review of higher education systems around the world, pointed out that rankings have become the de facto indicators of global scientific competitiveness since the early 2000s. Reinforced by the global financial crisis and a resulting call for increased public accountability, quantitative rankings have “emerged as a game changer” in higher education landscapes and in university reward structures by influencing government policies and resource allocation. Dr. Hazelkorn stressed the importance of combining indicator-based quantitative data with qualitative information, to recognise differences between research disciplines and to ensure that assessment processes were appropriate and fit-for-purpose.
Speaking from his perspective as lead coordinator for OECD’s Global Science Forum, Carthage Smith emphasised that science evaluations and metrics were important tools for the organisation’s mission to measure and promote economic development. By assessing the relation between government spending on higher education and scientific output in terms of numbers of publications, PhDs awarded, and patents filed, OECD provided governments with comparative information on the efficiency of science systems. Although agreeing that this benchmarking did determine scientific behaviour “to some extent,” Dr. Smith noted that countries and science systems require these data to set their own priorities.
As someone working in a science system in an emerging economy, Robert McLaughlin, from the Office of Research Integrity at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, noted the challenges of aspiring to improve a university’s or science system’s rank worldwide while addressing local needs and supporting research integrity principles. Dr. McLaughlin noted that “the role of science in society is broadly discussed in South Africa,” reflecting the challenge for the higher education system to balance an ambition to meet expectations and build capacity at the national level with an aspiration for international recognition.
Representing the Global Young Academy, Tatiana Martins, Professor at the Federal University of Goiás in Brazil, argued that increased pressure on young scientists to build a career posed threats to research integrity in academia. As a countermeasure, she suggested including research integrity as a criterion to be measured in assessments, helping to change the reward system. Beyond this, Dr. Martins expressed concern that the present assessment and reward systems were further aggravating the brain drain by contributing to international competition for the best scientists.
The ICSU Committee on Freedom and Responsibility in Science , chaired by Leiv Sydnes, is developing a discussion paper that explores the issues highlighted in this invited Symposium .
Comments on the discussion paper are welcome, and can be shared by writing to the Committee’s Secretariat, Roger Pfister at email@example.com.
Reproduced with permission from ICSU
©2015 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston