Research vision

Slow Science

ETH Zurich

Given my long term experience at a top notch research university (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Zurich, ETHZ), I know that good research in our field is driven by societal engagement and by unrestrained scientific curiosity and intellectual inspiration. As such it is intrinsically motivated and certainly not driven by external incentives, or credits. On the contrary, incentive schemes based on ‘credit point’ for high impact rated publications, are very demotivating. These schemes all target at so called ‘excellence’, and thus only transmit the depressing feeling of never achieving enough, they also feed envy in contrast to mutual inspiration and collaboration. These destructive incentive systems, has been quite aptly characterised by a good colleague in Vienna, as ‘Excellence Stalinism’ (Weichhart, 2012). As a logical consequence I believe that good science is mainly, if not exclusively, stimulated and fostered by the creation of a good ‘research atmosphere’, an inclusive innovative and creative milieu, which stimulates unexpected mutual inspirations, where we jointly experience joy, praise and respect for all our joint research achievements, and where critical debate is not experienced as ‘competition’ but as stimulus for further inquiries. This partly requires rethinking the University, as was also called for by colleague Willem Halfmann in his Academic Manifesto.

This view is directly related to my long-term plea for a ‘theory lab’ in our Department, a place, where we as researchers and all those who are interested can informally meet, without preset agenda’s or purpose, where we can freely exchange ideas, associate, and deliberate, and be inspired by each others work and endeavours. A place where the classical university motto of ‘academic freedom’ still thrives, as a motor for our academic achievements. See also TED-Talk by Steven Johnson on ‘Where do good ideas come from?’

On the other hand this vie is also related to my initiative to organise and conduct our so called ‘Alexander von Humboldt Lectures’ in Nijmegen as a re-occurring event in which we engage with topical debates within our discipline and freely exchange ideas with renowned scientists in our field, even if this is not the core topic of our own individual research. See also: Alexander von Humboldt Lectures in Nijmegen.

Halffman, Willem and Hans Radder. (2015). The Academic Manifesto: From an Occupied to a Public University. Minerva. Vol. 53, No. 2, pp. 165–187.

Weichhart, P. (2012). ‘Slow Science’ versus Exzellenzstalinismus. Vom Nutzen wissenschaftlicher Reflexionen abseits der Evaluierungsbuchhaltung. – In: Seebacher, M.M. (ed.) Raumkonstruktionen in der Geographie. Eine paradigmenspezifische Darstellung gesellschaftlicher und fachspezifischer Konstruktions-, Rekonstruktions- und Dekonstruktionsprozesse von „Räumlichkeit“. Dept. of Geography and Regional Research, University of Vienna, Vienna, pp. 7-38.