‘Critique as a professional service?’ was the title of the anniversary conference by the Institute for Research Information and Quality Assurance (iFQ) held in Berlin at the beginning of December last year. The iFQ was found in 2005 with the aim to inform, analyze and give advice to members of universities, research institutes and policy makers about the national and international science system. It focuses on the fields of evaluation and review process; indicators, methods and bibliometrics; monitoring the science system; and young researches and careers. This interesting conference for its 10th anniversary was, at the same time, also the last one for the institute under its current name because it will be incorporated into the Deutsches Zentrum für Hochschul- und Wissenschaftsforschung (DZHW) located in Hannover in January 2016.
The conference hosted with Prof. Roger A. Pielke and Prof. Paul Wouters international as well as many renowned national speakers. In his opening speech, the president of the iFQ, Prof. Stefan Hornbostel, presented the conflict of scientists between doing innovative and competitive science with high quality standards and advising policy makers on how to make the right decision for the whole society. This topic was picked up by Prof. Pielke who gave an impressive example for the difficulty to predict natural catastrophes for the future and how the outcome strongly depends on the interpretation of data by individual scientists. Therefore, in some areas, scientists are facing wicked problems when scientific questions do not lead to a clear answer making it difficult to give recommendations to politicians. Further discussions were focused on the quality and correct use of the evaluation system within the scientific and political community but also on the current use of impact factors for the career of scientists (presentations by Prof. Wolfgang Böttcher und Prof. em. Peter Weingart). Prof. Wouters talked in his presentation about the transition of quality and its permanent presence in our society. He claimed that the ‘quality of quality’ itself becomes a pressing concern. Only with a robust information infrastructures and a sustainable evaluation system the situation can be improved.
Further presentations from several other fields clearly showed that the discussion about research quality in many different areas is a major concern in our society and constructive critique is needed on many levels to improve decision making on all important topics.