WTMC Workshop - THE POLITICS OF SCIENTIFIC QUALITY - 28-30 January 2009
The concern for quality dominates current science policy. Science ministries and funding agencies claim to support excellence above all. This concern with quality is strong in Dutch science policy, but also in other countries, and in international science organisations. Only the best scientists, in the best institutes, of the best fields will do. In most of this policy discourse, questioning the ambition for excellence is unthinkable and hence the focus is on how top quality can be achieved and how it can be measured.
Rather than these how questions, this workshop asks precisely why we seem so obsessed with scientific quality and its measurement. What purposes does the measurement of quality serve? What is the problem that is being addressed with the regime of omnipresent output assessment? In more general terms: what changing governance structures in science policy is this concern with quality part of, and what are its intended and unintended consequences? Hence we will steer clear of technical questions of how to develop indicators of quality to ask how and why this concern has arisen.
The measurement of quality in public services by means of output measurement, in research notoriously measured as international publications, is part of a more general trend in public policy, known as New Public Management (NPM). Originating in the Reagan and Thatcher years (and therefore not so ‘new’ anymore) as a challenge to stifled bureaucracies, NPM has spread across many areas of policy making. By now, it has been fiercely challenged for its conception of public services as commodified goods that can be produced most efficiently in competition, while pre-empting substantial political choice in favour of optimisation management. It has also been criticised for the perverse effects output standards can have on the practices it claims to measure. Similar critical questions are now being raised with respect to science policy.
In this workshop, we will analyse how the concern of quality has come about in the context of a changing science policy. We will analyse how research has become subject to a regime of govern mentality that revolves around specific conceptions of “quality”. We will investigate the justification of quality measurement, its alleged purposes, its unplanned side effects and its possible alternatives. As usual, we will combine these theoretical concerns with practical activities and assignments and reading of key STS texts.