Three questions for one of the hosts: Peter Strohschneider, President of the German Research Foundation (DFG).
Professor Strohschneider, what is the Global Research Council (GRC)? And what is the meeting in Berlin about?
The GRC was founded in 2012 and has very close ties with the National Science Foundation of the USA and with the DFG. It brings together the heads of research and research-funding organisations from all over the world. We would like to maintain an ongoing dialogue on questions of research development and funding activity. Two concrete issues are on the agenda in Berlin: scientific integrity – in other words, principles of good research practice – and open access – that involves fundamental questions of access to literature and information in research. In the process we would certainly like to promote the aspirational standards of the DFG and the way in which we support research in Germany.
What is special about how the DFG – Europe’s largest research funder with an annual budget of 2.7 billion euros – supports research?
More important than the size of the DFG is the fact that it performs its duties with the highest quality of evaluation and decision-making processes and with the greatest acceptance on the part of the research community. This is remarkable in the light of decreasing rates of funding approval – because financial requirements are growing significantly faster than funding possibilities. That is rather rare. We do not allow our evaluation and decision-making processes to be influenced by intervention from politics or industry. Funding is awarded solely according to criteria of research quality. Additionally, we are not divided up into subject-specific research councils. Within the decision-making bodies of the DFG, for example, physicists and German studies specialists have to explain to one another the criteria upon which they base their quality judgements. That makes a significant contribution to the integration of the German research system.
Einstein once said: “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be research.” Would you agree?
Yes, absolutely. This statement is based on the insight that the new is only new if it cannot be anticipated. Research always also involves the previously inconceivable. In a sense, scientific discovery involves the disruption of a given state of knowledge. We are therefore responsible for promoting such disruptions, which we then call “innovation”. Thinking the scientifically unthinkable means accepting disorder – however, at the highest intellectual level.
Annual Global Meeting of the Global Research Council in Berlin from 27 to 29 May 2013