Self-organised scientific crowds to remedy research bureaucracy

 at EuroScientist: “Imagine a world without peer review committees, project proposals or activity reports. Imagine a world where research funds seamlessly flow where they are best employed, like nutrients in a food-web or materials in a river network. Many scientists would immediately signup to live in such a world.

The Netherlands is set to become the place where this academic paradise will be tested, in the next few years. In July 2016, the Dutch parliament approved a motion related to implementing alternative funding procedures to alleviate the research bureaucracy, which is increasingly burdening scientists. Here EuroScientistinvestigates whether the self-organisation power of the scientific community could help resolve one of researchers’ worse burden.


The Dutch national funding agency is planning to adopt a radically new system to allocate part of its funding, promoted by ecologist Marten Sheffer, who is professor of aquatic ecology and water quality management at Wageningen University and Research Centre. Under the proposed approach, funds would intially be evenly divided among all scientists in the country. Then, they would each have to allocate half of what they have received to the person who, in their opinion, is the most deserving scientist in their network. Then, the process would be iterated.

The promoters of the system believe that the “wisdom of the crowd” of the scientific community would assigning more funds to the most deserving scientists among them; with minimal amount of paperwork. The Dutch initiative is part of a broader effort to use a scientific approach to improve science.

In other words, it is part of a trend aiming to employ scientific evidence to tweak the social mechanisms of academia. Specifically, findings from what is known as complexity research are increasingly brought forward as a way of reducing bureaucracy, removing red tape, and maximising the time scientists spend in thinking….

Abandoning the current bureaucratic, top-down system to evaluate and fund research, based on labour-intensive peer-review, may not be too much of a loss. “Peer-review is an imperfect, fragile mechanism. Our simulations show that assigning funds at random would not distort too much the results of the traditional mechanism,” says Flaminio Squazzoni, an economist at the University of Brescia, Italy, and the coordinator of the PEERE-New Frontiers of Peer Review COST action.

In reality peer-review is never quite neutral. “If scientists behave perfectly, then peer review works,” Squazzoni explains, “but if strategic motivations are taken into account, like saving time or competition, then the results are worse than random.” Squazzoni believes that automation, economic incentives, or the creation of professional reviewers may improve the situation….(More)”