Research, results and dissemination: what would Humboldt say?

It is now quite established that the current 5G channel models discussed in 3GPP are still far from complete. However, 5G is still planned to be commercialized rather sooner than later. This is actually quite a paradox: while we are developing technologies to communicate faster and faster, we seem to forget that truly innovative research needs its own pace. Could we re-think the way we carry out research as we tend to re-think the way we eat? Slow science sounds actually very attractive. We might also add: with a dedicated budget. Over the years, the COST framework has been shown to be one of the most efficient and inclusive ways to integrate research communities. Yet, networking is only useful when we are able to share our latest research, which must be funded by other means. At times when research is often evaluated through short-term metrics (how many jobs? how much money?), our policy makers should not forget that research and networking are like two faces of the same coin that both needs to be funded.

At the same time, policy makers urge researchers to disseminate and have a measurable impact on society, often in the time frame of a project: we should publish but also blog, share and like (and mostly be liked) on Facebook, etc. Again, what is the use of (sometimes costly) dissemination tools if we are left without funds to carry out research and produce results? Now would actually be a good time to reflect upon Wilhelm von Humboldt’s theories at the beginning of the 19th century: for Humboldt (1767-1835), academic research is characterized by no predetermined end-point, or no objective that could be solely defined in utilitarian terms (again, how many jobs? how much immediate impact?). Furthermore, research is a process whose success relies on being free from political interference. Quite a program indeed.

We could assume that Humboldt might quite like COST actions. I am less sure that he would appreciate the fact that I am now blogging.

Claude Oestges