How expensive is Big Science? Consequences of using simple publication counts in performance assessment of large scientific facilities
- 492 Downloads
Although the nuclear era and the Cold War superpower competition have long since passed, governments are still investing in Big Science, although these large facilities are nowadays mostly geared towards areas of use closer to utility. Investments in Big Science are also motivated not only by promises of scientific breakthroughs but also by expectations (and demands) of measurable impact, and with an emerging global market of competing user-oriented Big Science facilities, quantitative measures of productivity and quality have become mainstream. Among these are rather simple and one-sided publication counts. This article uses publication counts and figures of expenditure for three cases that are disparate but all represent the state-of-the-art of Big Science of their times, discussing at depth the problems of using simple publication counts as a measure of performance in science. Showing, quite trivially, that Big Science is very expensive, the article also shows the absurd consequences of consistently using simple publication counts to display productivity and quality of Big Science, and concludes that such measures should be deemed irrelevant for analyses on the level of organizations in science and replaced by qualitative assessment of the content of the science produced.
KeywordsBig Science Publication counts Quality assessment Performance assessment Productivity
The author is grateful to Richard Heidler and Heiko Heiberger for their assistance in processing the quantitative material used in the article.
- Hallonsten, O. (2013b). Myths and realities of the ESS project: A systematic scrutiny of readily accepted truths. In T. Kaiserfeld & T. O’Dell (Eds.), Legitimizing ESS: Big Science as a collaboration across boundaries. Lund: Nordic Academic Press.Google Scholar
- Hallonsten, O. (2014). The politics of European collaboration in big science. In M. Mayer, M. Carpes, & R. Knoblich (Eds.), International relations and the global politics of science and technology. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
- Hallonsten, O. (submitted). The parasites: Synchrotron radiation at SLAC, 1972–1992.Google Scholar
- Hallonsten, O. & Heinze, T. (submitted). Formation and expansion of a new organizational field in experimental science: Synchrotron Radiation Labs in Europe and the United States, 1974–2012.Google Scholar
- Johnson, A. (2004). The end of pure science: science policy from Bayh–Dole to the NNI. In D. Baird, A. Nordmann, & J. Schummer (Eds.), Discovering the nanoscale. Amsterdam: IOS Press.Google Scholar
- Krige, J. (2003). The politics of european scientific collaboration. In J. Krige & D. Pestre (Eds.), Companion to science in the twentieth century. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Krige, J. (2006). American hegemony and the postwar reconstruction of science in Europe. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Lohrmann, E., & Söding, P. (2009). Von schnellen Teilchen und hellem Licht: 50 Jahre Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Pestre, D., & Krige, J. (1992). Some thoughts on the early history of CERN. In P. Galison & B. Hevly (Eds.), Big Science—The growth of large-scale research. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
- Wildavsky, B. (2010). The Great Brain race: How global universities are reshaping the world. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Woods, H. R. (2006). New life for a linac. Symmetry, 3(7), 10–15.Google Scholar