Andras P, Charlton BG. European science must embrace modernization.
Nature (Correspondence). 2004 Jun 17;429(6993):699.
As Nature has noted in recent News stories and Editorials, French researchers are revolting against their government's strategic policy on science, while the government criticizes the ossified structure of the research establishment (see Nature 428, 105 & 108; 2004). The German government has recently announced its intention of creating elite universities to match the best in the world (Nature 427, 271 & 477; 2004). And changes to UK research funding will probably concentrate resources in a small number of large and prestigious centres (Nature 428, 351; 2004).
These events indicate a major government-initiated modernization in science policy. European scientists who wish to work in an efficient system that produces top-quality work should embrace, not oppose, this new wave of modernization.
One reason for reform is the growing realization that - according to several quality and efficiency criteria, such as citation analyses - science in the United States is outperforming European science. And this gap is widening, especially when it comes to generating research of major importance (The Economist 369, 5-7; 2003).
One oft-cited difference between Europe and the United States is science funding, which is proportionately higher in the United States and concentrated in relatively fewer institutions. However, as well as having more money, US science enjoys a greater diversity of independent public and private funding sources, a situation favoured by tax regulations and greater institutional autonomy (for example, in private research institutes).
There are also important differences in the structure of scientific careers, such as the greater mobility of US researchers, including senior scientists, and the greater ease of hiring and funding foreign researchers and PhD students.
Together, these factors largely prevent the ossification of research institutions, and fuel productivity and innovation.
If European governments wish to match the results of US science, policy reforms will need not merely to address the funding inequality but also to create career and funding structures that generate increased competition and differential rewards among both scientists and research institutes.
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