Ranking, awarding …

…reviewed from a very different corner

A spectre is haunting academia: the specter of competition – having politicians, who want to instrumentalise science, as their mouthpiece – for instance recently the Hungarian government came up with a strangulating funding scheme

and surely many other countries may be added.

Another instrument of the specter is the use of various schemes of ranking, awarding and the like …There are different dimensions of policies that are tightly strangulating what may be called “freedom of academia”

(may be called so, as this terminology had been abused by conservative and reactionary politicians in Germany against the student movement end of the 1960s (see Hans-Abrecht Koch: Professorale Selbstbehauptung in turbulenter Zeit; see also 
Review of Nikolai Wehrs, Protest der Professoren. Der «Bund Freiheit der Wissenschaft» in den 1970er Jahren
Alessandro Stoppoloni (in Italian); also: 
Martina Steber: Die Hüter der Begriffe. Politische Sprachen des Konservativen in Großbritannien und der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1945-1980 – available via liegen.io)

One aspect came to my mind when reading an article titled
CAN AN ALGORITHM WRITE A BETTER NEWS STORY THAN A HUMAN REPORTER?, written by Steven Levy. Two passages caught my special attention: 

Hammond was recently asked for his reaction to a prediction that a computer would win a Pulitzer Prize within 20 years. He disagreed. It would happen, he said, in five.

The other passage:

Last year at a small conference of journalists and technologists, I asked Hammond [Narrative Science’s CTO and cofounder, Kristian Hammond] to predict what percentage of news would be written by computers in 15 years. At first he tried to duck the question, but with some prodding he sighed and gave in: “More than 90 percent.

What actually is frightening of the following little story? Sure, for many the outlook of loosing their employment but we may consider that today’s standards – such as the Pulitzer Prize and many others – aren’t as noble as so many ranking-fed moneybags propose. Again, many things to be said and discussed, though for the moment only one, quoting Felix Stalder:

“iUsers are only able to evaluate search results pragmatically; that is, in light of whether or not they are helpful in solving a concrete problem. In this regard, it is not paramount that they find the best solution or the correct answer but rather one that is available and sufficient.”

Estratto di: Stalder, Felix. “The Digital Condition.” Polity Press, 2018

Indeed, everybody gets the Prize he or she deserves – it also means that at some stage the winning material will be self-assessed by an algorithm (a step further than the currently already ‘automated review’) by – finally that would be the ‘peer’ for the review. Anything new? May be, but may be not so much. Rancière, writing about post-democracy, states that it

is the government practice and conceptual legitimization of a democracy after the demos, a democracy that has eliminated the appearance, miscount and dispute of the people.

Just in time – and one could say: time does actually not matter. One of “my” universities sent a newsletter today – via e-mail, may be that this is the reason for calling it ‘connection’. It is arriving from one of the Chinese universities I worked at, ne of the headlines reading (in the section Education)

Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative kicks off at … with Michael Young

right away followed by an article titled

… establishes International Business School

Now I dare to wonder to which extent revolutions, also and perhaps especially in science are initiated by a spark, a genius – often not (easily) understood, daring to make a step further – nit fearing being possibly wrong … – of course, this is a slippery field. We in China and we protestants in Europe know, for different reasons:
it is all about working hard
– in the east to serve society, in the west to build a house, plant a tree and have a sun (so the sayings go, standards set for male). And it is – nolens volens – working in society, being, existing , living in society and (as Marx stated) even individualising in society. And still there is this moment of genius – not only needed to be awarded any of these high ranking symbols but being awarded by some form and degree of independence. One does not have to agree with Kant in all the facets, one can laugh about his habits – but one has to accept the challenge he out in front of each of us: consciously living, accepting responsibility, only with this being able to go beyond the Kantian individualism, and doing what we do: making our own history, even if we have to accept that we do not do it entirely according to our own ‘simple individual will’.

Such awards make only sense if this is acknowledged and academic work does not degenerate to mere International Business …

The latter is exactly what we see with the entire reviewing, and new attitudes to awarding – at least as danger of the massification of ranked publishing: mass, numbers, formal perfection counts – quality control as engaged dispute amongst peers is replaced by checking the reflection of formal coherence – relativity in terms of E = M2cannot be seen, and Schroedinger’s cat will be known as dead or alive, no option for the beast to be … really Schroedinger’s cat.

Another issue with reviews – algorithmised or not, or another expression: Finally any reviewer – human or not – can only review what is familiar.

The divine day in-day out

Or it is about resistance

and getting engaged in debates …we, each of us, has to decide



wishes at the end and beginning of the semester II

http://www.mrichatham.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/knowledge-vs-experience. jpg

May we learn how to deconstruct the industrial norms, so that experience, appropriation and appropriateness guide us through the days and life.


wishes at the end of the one and beginning of another semester I

May we gain the strength, to acknowledge the limits of our wisdom and judgement without accepting the consequences arising from there – this, instead of being tempted to think we know everything, and even worse, knowing everything better than those who are directly concerned. 

had I been wrong ?

or is it just the world that took a wrong turn?


… I share the general and underlying gist of your concern: there had been a historically specific background against which the work emerged and consolidated. And it consolidated by elaborating, by deeper collective reflection on the conditions that provided the womb from which it is the off-spring, and with the firm conviction to cut off the umbilical cord, the provider altering, being carrier of the venom, ready to kill his child which he would have preferred to be still-born anyway. What is the answer? Is there only one answer?
One reply is very common, and a kind of standard object of sociological investigation: aim on growth in order to be sufficiently strong in order to stand up and resist – again and again the danger of being poisoned had been revealed – now walking, after the umbilical cord cut-off the problem comes while walking: It is not possible without rest, and even rooting is necessary – the striking leg depends on the supporting leg, and as harder as you one wants to strike, as stronger the supporting leg has to be. Not biologist nor professional player are needed to know: sooner or later the one leg gets in the way of the other, and by the very nature of this process, it is the supporting leg that will gain dominance. – The problem with [the project] is that we forgot that cutting off the cord, still left us on the same poisoned soil on which we now try to walk.

The alternative: aiming on inner strength, remaining a small group, or at least prioritising a healthy strong diet and movement, not per se growing in seize. Call it developing instead of growing, sturdily walking, instead of running with the support of narcotics (of course, these narcotics are called antibiotics, and the like), faster though not sustainable, and less and less able even to survive without the drugs.
Dilemmas, dichotomies, contradictions, hopelessness, challenges, choices, facing bills that need to be paid … understand it as you like, coming statistically to the end of my life, I am wondering, if I have to question my first real child, baptised “Die Organisation”, though brought on the way with the second name “Eine Analyse der modernen Gesellschaft”. Inscribed had been the thesis:
Kurzum: gefordert ist die Erfassung genau diese komplexe Widersprüchlichkeit, in der Organisationen (ent-) stehen und die sie selbst bilden – sowohl in sich als auch in ‘Beeinflussung ihrer Umwelt’. Es geht mit anderen Worten um die Erfassung von Organisationen als vergesellschaftete und zugleich vergesellschaftende Gebilde, die sich durch Strukturiertheit und Prozessualität auszeichnen.**
As so often, we can learn from one of the disciplines dealing with nature. In her book “Chaos Bound. Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science”, Katherine Hayles states on page 221
Consider, for example, how conceptions of gravity have changed over the last three hundred years. Gravity is conceived in the Newto­ nian paradigm very differently from in the general theory of relativity. For Newton, gravity was the result of mutual attraction between masses; for Einstein, it was the result of the curvature of space. One might imagine still other kinds of explanation, such as a Native American belief that objects fall to the earth because the spirit of Mother Earth calls out to kindred spirits in other bodies. But no matter how gravity is conceived, no viable paradigm could predict that when someone steps off a cliff, she will remain spontaneously suspended in mid-air. This possibility is ruled out by the nature of physical reality.

And now it nevertheless seems that another hybrid is trying to emerge. While we do not know about Schroedinger’s cat before the box is opened, while it is thus important to make use of the openness and indeterminacy as we do know that hybrids are so far only found on burial sites …

The [project’s] growth-path reminds me a bit of what is frequently said about the cobbler: that he wears the worst of all shoes. Being scientists we may have to think about it when it comes to the knowledge and ability to deeply reflect as the braingear we use when thinking as the rambler disposes of when walking.
May be this metaphorical way of writing inspires to some thinking, and may be it encourages to return to another crucial element of what [the project] had been about: a really collective exercise of a day growing and going together, instead of bringing individuals together for a common walk for a while ….
So long, courage …
In short: the challenge is to capture precisely this complex contradictoriness in which organisations (en-) stand and which they themselves form – both in themselves and in ‘influencing their environment’. In other words, it is a matter of recording organisations as socialised and at the same time socialising entities which are characterised by structure and process.
(Herrmann, Peter, Die Organisation …: page 6 (machine translation)

alternative reading

Recently I had been proofreading an article I wrote, looking at

The Particular and the Universal – Indigenous Sports for the Integrity of the Global Village

Though too often this work is the annoying part – but in this case I actually enjoyed it, thinking that there could be other criteria for peer reviewing etc.

  • How often does one interrupt reading to thing, reflect deeply on what had been written
  • How often does one detect connections that are unusual, though showing uo as being interesting
  • How often does one find new knowledge instead of new information confirming what one knows
  • How often is something written with which one does not agree, while one feels nevertheless stimulated by it and is provoked to think about the own ideas and the own standard arguments
  • Is there anything in the text that really provokes looking something up in order to gain some deeper insight, especially is there any “strange cat” – equally alive and dead – mentioned: something that one may have vaguely come across but one is now keen to recap, or study more in detail though it has nothing to do with one’s usual focus (e.g. Schroedinger’s cat – if it is alive of dead is not centrally a matter of [animal] welfare but still may of interest for everybody)

Recently, after having given a presentation, I received a mail by the Dean who was actually hosting the event, He said

…. I thought about a few explanations you shared with us. Nice job. Inspiring …

Leaving aside that there had been some interesting discussion at the end, a line as the one quoted may be the “highest praise” one can get after giving a presentation or writing something. A kind of “slow listening”.

For journal reviews (and reading, of course), it may be good to revisit the usual “comments to the editor”/”comments to the author”.

I remember once about an author, let’s call her A. A’s submission to a journal had been rejected by the review (anonymised process on all sides). The reason, brought forward:

The author did not make any reference to the work that had been undertaken by A.

Again, mind, the reviewer did not know that A had been actually the author of the reviewed article.

And the moral of an amoral academia: Never say anything new, always repeat what you said … – with a wee bit of change, possible just put in the new data: instead of 2xyz, the new article has the data of 2xyz+5. Interesting …

so what is the point?

Alluding to the 11th thesis on Feuerbach

Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it

I was thinking the other day there may be – today – some good reason to add a 12th thesis:

There are many studies we are doing today; the point is to conflate information obtained and make real knowledge out of them.

Something delightful – though it is not the first and only institution apparently deciding to work for knowledge, not for ranks – so on the news-site of theUniversity Ghent we read

We are transforming our university into a place where talent once again feels valued and nurtured

The beginning of a new year! And also a new direction when thinking about reforms of education and training?