The freedom of scientific inquiry is a societal good worthy of being highly valued and protected. And especially today it is. As I am writing this editorial note, the sun is blazing outside on a hot summer day, and I am experiencing quite vividly some of the freedom I enjoy as a scientist: in delighting contrast to someone working, say, in an upscale business firm, I do not have to adhere to any rigid dress- code or work time schedule and I can decide for myself when and where I will be working on what. So right now I am at home, with open windows, no shoes, a cool drink, and I just decided that right now I could take the time and write something for JUnQ. There you go: academic freedom.
But let’s try and be serious. At first glance, most of you will not question the initial statement, I assume. And in- deed: If our aim and societal mandate as scientists is to produce genuine and independent knowledge – or even find “truth” (as some actually think they can) – it is obviously crucial that we enjoy freedom, liberties on various different levels. I see mainly two: (1) The “freedom to” do scientific research, in the sense of being (en)able(d) to dispose of the appropriate means and resources such as time, money and equipment. (2) The “freedom of/from” interference, censorship, or even repression by other parties, for example if our research should entail conclusions that do not go in accordance with popular (or some ideological) belief or knowledge. The freedom of science appears to be a tricky thing. With this issue of JUnQ, we try to shed some light on the different meanings and values freedom carries with respect to science as a whole, disciplines or the individual researcher.
Most international legal systems include regulations to provide and protect freedom for academia in these two respects. In Germany, academic freedom is granted as a fundamental right by article 5 (par. 3) of the constitution: “Art and science, research and teaching are free.” With this regulation, the state protects the scientific community mainly from governmental intervention and takes on the responsibility to establish universities and enable research. Over the last years, the understanding of what the “freedom of science” is or how it is to be fostered has undergone some changes. A good example is the “Freedom of Science Initiative” launched by the German government in 2008. Its aim is to grant non-university research institutions more free- dom in the form of flexibility when allocating their funds, which in turn shall promote their effectiveness. The socalled “Wissenschaftsfreiheitsgesetz” (Academic Freedom Act) of 2012 permits research institutions the acquisition of third party funding to attract or hold high-level researchers, and facilitates the acquisition of shares in external companies. Naturally, these new liberties come with a new and increased set of individual responsibilities for research institutions such as monitoring and auditing procedures. So far, so good. However, this newly won freedom also seems to bring along the displacement of traditional forms of scientific self-regulation in research institutions by market principles like competitive constraints, opening up academic structures more to external (economic) parties and their demands and affecting the internal structure of scientific institutions (mainly by strengthening the management level). This is where the individual active researcher and her individual freedom of choice comes to mind, and one has to wonder whether it is her who gains freedom in the process or the institution, its directing board, or high prestige “flagship researchers”, respectively.
The recourse to means from third party funding has always been a part of the German academic system. Over time however, third party funding has gone from an “extra” to a vital resource for scientific research, at public universities as well. This has been subject to a lot of controversy, with critics sensing a potential threat to the integrity of scientific inquiry and a severe infringement to the individual researcher’s independence in choosing subjects or questions to study: The amount of third party funding acquired alone can influence a scientific career. The German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) is the largest and most important funding agency in the country. To find out about the impact this logic of fund- ing may have on the freedom of academic research, Thomas Jagau talked to Dr. Robert Paul K?nigs, DFG’s head of the department of scientific affairs (pp. XVIII).
But scientific research not only depends on monetary re- sources, of course. As mentioned above, intellectual freedom from ideologically motivated censorship is just as important – the freedom to ask questions, even if they are not en vogue; the freedom to publish answers that are not popular. Dependence on paradigms and disciplinary trends but also the influence of non-scientific doctrines can restrict research. How this can affect entire disciplines is demonstrated by chemist and chemistry historian Klaus R?ker (pp. XXI). He shows how scientific knowledge is always embedded in the intellectual and social context of its time and how it is determined by political, socio-economic or religious influences.
On the micro level of things, and from the perspective of individual scientists, freedom is first and foremost an object of desire. It is particularly young scholars who often find themselves in a complex net of dependencies – from their supervisors, scholarship providers, the next (and next, and next) fixed-term and part-time contract, and the like. Hence, ever higher degrees of independence in doing their research is what most scientists strive for. This kind of freedom increases with seniority and merit, from students to graduates, to doctors, professors, and so on. Since in academia, the only one forcing you to go on is yourself – are we left with the paradoxical (or tragic?) situation that acquiring greater amounts of freedom requires increasing willingness to engage in self-exploitation? Is freedom something we should maybe consider stop striving for? This is just polemic, of course. Putting a different spin on our cover topic, philosopher Ingo Gerhartz shows that asking this question anyway may indeed be heuristically useful. In his essay, he regards “Freedom as a Problem” that could possibly prevent us from gaining any knowledge at all (pp. XVII). JUnQ’s David
Huesmann turns to secondary uses of scientifically generated knowledge that is intended for peaceful applications, but may in the wrong hands have disastrous impacts (think of nuclear technology). He also asks whether there should be limits to scientific freedom when it comes to the possibility of such dual use (pp. XXIII).
Along with our “magazine” section you will of course also find the latest articles on null result research and open questions we received, at the core – and heart – of this issue. It is these contributions that exemplify the idea behind JUnQ: Making use of your freedom as a scientist to publish the results you produced by doing good academic work and making them accessible for fellow researchers – even if they do not fit current paradigmatic views or common expectations. We would like to thank all contributors for being a part of is idea and extend an invitation to you to send us your “failed” science for the next issue of JUnQ. We are looking forward to it.
I wish you an enjoyable read,
— Tobias Boll
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