Grant lottery is bureaucratic short-cut

Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.

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The idea of a funding lottery (Nature 575, 574–575; 2019) is, in my view, a classic bureaucratic response to a process that bureaucracy finds too hard to handle.

The review of scientific grant applications depends on an assessment of their quality, requiring a strict combination of evidence and intellectual judgement. Stuff that, say the bureaucrats. “Let’s make it a lottery, and save ourselves time and money.” Sure, some applications might flourish that otherwise would not, but what about the high-quality research that has been carefully constructed over time and is suddenly de-funded? Such a funding system is, in effect, anti-intellectual. It is a research version of publication bibliometrics that focus merely on citation counts, not on quality.

Academia must resist this bureaucratization of research and publishing by well-meaning but scientifically inept bureaucrats. Otherwise, science itself stands to be plunged into the same miasma of metrics and bureaucracy-benefiting processes that have already weakened other great institutions, many examples of which are described in Jerry Muller’s book The Tyranny of Metrics (see Nature 554, 167; 2018).

Nature 577, 472 (2020)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00133-1

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