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Sarah de Rijcke wins ERC Starting Grant

With a success rate of approximately one in ten, receiving an ERC Starting Grant is a notable achievement. Recently, the European Commission announced that Sarah de Rijcke successfully applied for the project FluidKnowledge.

FluidKnowledge is a five year project with a maximum of 1.5 million euros available from the European Research Council. The project is a multi-scale ethnography on how evaluation shapes ocean science. It is the first large-scale study to address this important issue. The project will run from 2019 until 2024.

The role of evaluation in planet-critical science

De Rijcke: “Research evaluation can help science deliver its promise to society. But does it? Many experts think not, because we are increasingly creating a monoculture in science and scholarship; we risk promoting only one type of winner - who often takes all; and we risk not being able to address planet-critical questions. We know very little about these potential adverse effects of evaluation. Therefore I will investigate what role evaluation plays in fields such as ocean science, the knowledge of which we need to tackle climate change.”

“I think ocean science is an excellent case because - like many fields - it is under great pressure to be both scientifically excellent and relevant to industry and relevant to the future of the planet. Its research is placed between many different demands. Think of scientific values versus market logics, or of science that scores versus science that matters.”

What has value in ocean science

FluidKnowledge will investigate the past, present and future of evaluating ocean science. Regarding the past, De Rijcke and her team will ask how research priorities in ocean science evolved until now. Which lines of inquiry became hot topics, and which died out? Who became global players, who ended up in the periphery? Who published on what, in which interdisciplinary collaborations?
Regarding the present, the team will analyze what currently matters in ocean science by studying the knowledge cultures in different European marine institutes. This is where research evaluation and the daily practice of research come together. They will study ethnographically how ocean scientists do their work: in labs, on ships, during team meetings, and in supervisory meetings.
Regarding the future, FluidKnowledge will look at priority setting in science policy. The researchers will study how expectations about the role of ocean science are formulated in European policies. Which values and priorities will ocean science be held accountable to? How do policy makers and ocean scientists work together? How and when does this fail?

A collaborative project

De Rijcke will work closely with ocean scientists throughout the project. For this purpose, she established a stakeholder advisory board consisting of six members of European marine institutes:

  • Prof.dr. Jan Mees - Director Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ), Chair European Marine Board;
  • Prof.dr. Ferdinando Boero - Universita' del Salento / CoNISMa / CNR-ISMAR; European Marine Board steering committee, The European Network of Marine Research Institutes and Stations (MARS) steering committee;
  • Prof.dr. Roberto Danovaro - Professor of Marine Biology and Ecology at the Polytechnic University of Marche & President of the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn of Naples;
  • Prof.dr. Frederic Briand - Director General The Mediterranian Science Commission (CIESM);
  • Prof.dr. Philippe Cury - Scientific Director Institut de Recherche pour le Développement France (IRD); Co-chair European Marine Research Network (EuroMarine);
  • Prof.dr. Henk Brinkhuis – Scientific Director Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ)

De Rijcke: “This project builds on my previous work, but significantly widens the scope and the scale of the research. I am much endebted to my SES research group members for co-developing this research agenda with me. I am also grateful to the ERC, the reviewers, and the panel members for granting me this generous funding. I think that research on the workings of evaluation is crucial for understanding a world in which trust in science is no longer obvious.”

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