BerlinScienceSurvey

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | BerlinScienceSurvey | Study Results of the Pilot Study 2021/22 | Scientific Goals, Expectations, and Scientific Practice

Scientific Goals, Expectations, and Scientific Practice

Scientists are confronted with multiple expectations and requirements, which they try to integrate into their scientific practice. For some selected scientific goals we wanted to know, first, to what extent scientists share these goals at all, i.e., whether they regard them as genuine goals of science. Second, to what extent they feel pressure of expectation with respect to these goals. And third, with regard to the same goals, we wanted to know what priority the scientists ascribe to them in their own everyday work.  

In qualitative interviews, which served as a preliminary study for the Berlin Science Survey, we asked scientists from various disciplines what they considered to be good research. Based on the answers, we compiled a list of goals in science. In pre-testing procedures, we then shortened this list to seven selectable, central goals.

The spectrum of goals in science to be evaluated now comprises a mixture of research-related intrinsic values ("methodological rigor" and "originality"), relevant topics of science policy discourse ("open science," "interdisciplinarity," and the societal usability of research results, also referred to as "societal impact" in this report), as well as other salient tasks and goals ("teaching" and "publication output").

 

Figure 1 Goals of science

 

The results (Figure 1) show that the values intrinsic to research are regarded by the vast majority as superior or even supreme goals. It is interesting that "good teaching" as well as "open science" are similarly often perceived as important goals. "Open science" is thus much more strongly internalized as a scientific goal by the community than, for example, "interdisciplinarity" or "societal impact," although these goals, which are partly science policy goals brought in from the outside, also find quite broad approval.

Only the publication output should, in the opinion of the vast majority of scientists, not be an overriding or even the highest goal, but rather a subordinate one. In our view, this opinion expresses a clear resistance to incentive systems in the scientific system that are too one-sidedly oriented toward quantitative publication output. After all, resistance to this type of incentive system is still intensively debated, as shown, for example, by recent calls from the EU Commission [1] for a revision of the performance evaluation system in science. The contradiction between the scientists' attribution of relevance and external expectations with regard to publication output also becomes apparent when one contrasts the perceived pressure of expectations (Figure 2).

 

Figure 2 Pressure of expectations with regard to goals

 

The scientists perceive a very high pressure of expectations, especially with regard to publication output (see Figure 2). Most respondents also feel a high pressure with regard to the more research-immanent goals, originality and methodological rigor.

For all other goals, the pressure of expectation is rated by a clear majority as low or not present at all. Expectation pressure is felt least often with regard to "good teaching" and "open science." On the one hand, this is remarkable, since these dimensions were given a high priority in the normative assessment of the goals, but on the other hand, it is not surprising, since these aspects of scientific work have found little or no entry into the currently implemented evaluation systems.

But how do scientists prioritize their daily work in this field of tension among multiple requirements and goals? Figure 3 shows that, on the one hand, those goals are prioritized which the respondents themselves consider to be important goals for science: that is, the values "methodological rigor" and "originality," which are intrinsic to research. On the other hand, goals are also strongly prioritized that are subject to the highest pressure of expectations, i.e., "publication output".

 

Figure 3 Prioritization of objectives in own work

 

In this respect, it cannot be assumed at first glance that external expectations and objectives have a negative influence on research quality, as is often assumed: Although the pressure of expectations coming from outside, as in the case of "publication output," is obviously very high, on the other hand the scientists weigh this against their own normative objectives. Prioritization is thus given not at the expense of research quality, but rather at the expense of secondary goals that are not associated with too much pressure of expectations.   

"Good teaching" also has a high priority for many scientists, although just under a third give "no priority at all" to good teaching, although it must be qualified here that scientists were also surveyed who may not be actively involved in teaching. Since this goal is not associated with high pressure of expectations in science, we conclude that for most of them the intrinsic motivation to achieve the goal is high.

The science policy goals "interdisciplinarity," "societal impact," and "open science" are in the last place of prioritization among the scientists. This could change in the coming years if the pressure of expectations increases in this regard, or if the scientists' own normative objectives shift accordingly. 

 

[1] European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Towards a reform of the research assessment system: scoping report, Publications Office, 2021, https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2777/707440