A Preface to the Einstein Foundation Award Booklet 2021
Measuring short-term success is usually easy. Recognizing quality is somewhat harder, while predicting lasting significance is, in most cases, nigh on impossible. This goes for many situations both in the arts and the sciences. But what we seek is certainty, knowledge, and reliability in order to build on new findings and forge ahead. We need tools and methods that enable us to access and compare the vast amount of information that is quickly available around the world and to place it in its specific context and to classify it. The science and research community is attempting to accomplish this mission to help us navigate through a complex world.
This is an increasingly important and far-reaching goal. If researchers are to continue delivering reliable results and providing guidance to society, they need to work with robust, universally accepted methods. To ensure quality, we not only need to look at the science system and its methods, in other words the conditions defining how researchers work and how they design experiments, but also at the circumstances shaping their careers, at the digital infrastructures, and publication mechanisms, that is the rules underpinning academic competition. We need to take a clear-eyed look at all systems used to measure success in research and to decide on locations.
To create incentives for researchers around the world to take on these challenges, the Einstein Foundation Berlin joined forces with the Damp Foundation to launch the Einstein Foundation Award for Promoting Quality in Research. Thanks to the generous donation of €500,000 prize money annually over the period of ten years, the award will be presented regularly from now on.
In this booklet, we present the recipients of the inaugural award: Paul Ginsparg, honored in the Individual Award category, created arXiv.org, the first open access platform for academic preprints, which revolutionized the academic production of knowledge by making it much easier to share and discuss new findings and theories. The Center for Open Science, too, has been contributing to global research culture and has increased public trust in science. It provides researchers with the necessary tools and digital infrastructure to make open science the default. In recognition of their vital work, the Center for Open Science receives our Institutional Award. In today’s academic culture, we need to promote and support especially those early career researchers who are alert to weak points and blind spots, who are keen and enthusiastic to take their subjects to a new level, and who are determined to make research conditions diverse, fair, and ethical. Four pioneering projects were shortlisted for our Early Career Award.
Since research quality is shaped by a multitude of factors, Ulrich Dirnagl, the head of our Award Office, provides us with a concise outline of the history of professionalization in the sciences—and of the problematic developments in quality assessment over the past few decades. Jury members Dieter Imboden and Dorothy Bishop give their views on this necessary debate and make recommendations on how to resolve current problems linked to high publication pressure and other systemic factors (see p. 4). Finally, Volker Stollorz of the Science Media Center Germany reminds us that trust in science not only needs non-negotiable standards, but also relies on skeptical journalists as intermediaries.
We hope this booklet provides a high-quality reading experience!
Chair, Einstein Foundation Berlin