New facet of scientific illiteracy

In Mexico, bean-counting is also referred to as puntitis (Jorge Quevedo) or cuentachilismo (Marcelino Cereijido). My local colleague and celebrated author has created with his student Claudia Edwards a three-paragraph gem on the stupidity of bureaucratic managerialism in science. You can read it in Spanish here. The text is so good that I have translated the 5 concrete examples of “modern” stupidity below. The international reader will instantly see that the crisis Pirincho (as Marcelino is also known to his friends) describes is by no means a “third world” problem.

See for example Norway’s first world leadership

Curt Rice | A bibliometric theater of the absurd

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 11.41.36 AM

or consider reading a lengthier account regarding the USA here

Henry A. Giroux | Barbarians at the Gates: Authoritarianism and the Assault on Public Education

or my comic version of how a UK bureaucrat responds to the ranking of their department

Fanis Missirlis | Pythonesque success

Without further due, I translate:

(1) Something is either known or unknown, in the latter case one resorts to a specialised science. But the illiterate scientist thinks there is a science to understand (he calls it “basic”) and another one for application, which would consist of applying something that is otherwise not available. Our epistemologists don’t even bother to clarify the confusion to the society who support their university carreers.

(2) If there is any profession that depends on discovery, on the unforeseen, totally original, this one is (on top of the artist) that of the scientist-researcher: one can open a Journal and realise that what she was investigating has just been published by a Dutch or Norwegian colleague, and she can no longer pretend to be a fool and continue to investigate a resolved problem. Yet the administrator-illiterate-scientist who evaluates a grant proposal demands that we declare how much we will have progressed on the third semester of the third year.

(3) One of the virtues that a scientist-researcher must have is to know at each moment where the limit is between the order of things known and the chaos of those things unknown. A good scientist cannot design a project to investigate how DNA encodes for proteins, or how the light deflects passing next to a massive celestial object, because these things are already known. Except if he has an objection over the genetic code or gravity, his project will not be very original. For this reason the path of scientific history is determined by the mental capacity and the originality of the scientists-researchers themselves. But in a country subjected to scientific illiteracy, it is the bureaucrats (financial managers) that signal to the scientific community “there is money to reseach this not that”.

(4) As a general rule, the most capable to evaluate the importance and originality of a scientific idea or project proposal is the researcher herself. But an administrator-illiterate-scientist has the cheek to determine the direction through financial directives “for this there is money, for that no” and – again! – insists on putting ahead their bureaucratic authority of the scientific knowledge!

(5) How does the illiterate-scientist-converted-into-scientific-manager compensate for his incompetence to capture the importance and originality of a scientific piece of work? Very easy he resorts to cuentachilismo: he does not understand what the scientific articles say, but he does know how to count them. By imposing this method of evaluation to the scientists of his nation, the illiterate scientist destroys academic quality.

9 thoughts on “New facet of scientific illiteracy

  1. Reblogged this on Chaos Theory and Pharmacology and commented:
    …”(5) How does the illiterate-scientist-converted-into-scientific-manager compensate for his incompetence to capture the importance and originality of a scientific piece of work? Very easy he resorts to cuentachilismo: he does not understand what the scientific articles say, but he does know how to count them. By imposing this method of evaluation to the scientists of his nation, the illiterate scientist destroys academic quality.”

    What the ‘illiterate-scientist-converted-into-scientific-manager’ would probably answer to that rhetoric (*)?

    Only one word will suffice:

    Re (illiterate-scientist-converted-into-scientific-manager): Touché.

    (*) Assuming that the question is asked to the ‘illiterate-scientist-converted-into-scientific-manager’ on a brief and unusual moment of pure and transparent sincerity on their behalf (i.e., they are probably drunk).

  2. The Last 50 Years: Mismeasurement and Mismanagement Are Impeding Scientific | Peter A. Lawrence

    Peter Lawrence makes seven claims:

    1. the near-romantic spirit of adventure and exploration that inspired young scientists of my own and earlier generations has become tarnished
    2. now many of us feel beleaguered by bureaucrats and politicians
    3. the core purposes of universities, teaching and research, are being eroded by excessive administration
    4. the number and locations of our publications are counted up…and then used to rank us, one against another
    5. the granting system is so dysfunctional it could not have been designed
    6. mismeasurement has damaged the practice of publication itself
    7. there has been “an insidious corruption of the practice of research”

    For a closer look into these claims see: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0070215315002203

  3. Touched today upon reading “Every so often the sin of bean counting reaches extraordinary heights… and then a paragraph about Queen Mary’s criteria (citing David Colquhoun’s blog), quoting the letter John Allen and I published in The Lancet and ending: “Both researchers subsequently lost their jobs.”

    Thanks to Chris Chambers for the mention. His book can be obtained here: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10970.html

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