It is often heard these days that successful academic living resembles to a type of top-level sport. Scientists must perform an increasing amount of tasks and only the best will succeed. At the start of a brand new academic year I was wondering: Are scientists the new athletes?
At first sight, this comparison seems ridiculous.
I mean, sports are outrageously popular, whereas science is not. For example, two months ago one billion people did exactly the same thing at the same moment: watching the final of the world cup football. And it’s no wonder: sports and athletes are eye-catchingly heroic, exciting, and physically attractive.
The vast majority of research is dull as hell (read my dissertation). Nietzsche, more than a century ago already concluded: “Nicht wenn es gefährlich ist, die Wahrheit zu sagen, findet sie am seltensten Vertreter, sondern wenn es langweilig ist.“ Reality is obstinate and nuanced. The ‘sex, drugs and R&R science’ broadcasted by National Geographic Channel shows us only the sexy extremes.
Sports sells, science does not.
Paradoxically, selling research is exactly what scientists have to do more and more - to top journals and the media, but also to wealthy companies, due to governmental budget cuts on science. Hence, research must become sports like. Boring nuance must be exchanged for exiting catchiness. Some researchers go even further. Recent years have shown that also for scientists cheating is an option. Hence, the analogy between an academic career and a doped hors-category Tour de France climb is quickly made. Obsession for the summit and harsh circumstances relax ethical standards.
As we speak, the UM is about the only Dutch university that is not on the list of top cheaters, which is a pity. I mean, we all know UM’s obsession with lists and rankings to effectuate its felt need of belong among the academic establishment. All big universities are on this list, and we’re not! So, as a kind of academic New Year’s resolution, let’s make it to this list. If every UM researcher will scrutinise one paper of a colleague, I’m sure it will work.
Happy New Academic Year!
Thomas Thijssens, lecturer at SBE