Science - February 12, 2004

Life at the top is not easy

Quotes of the week

Quantity or quality

‘Belonging to the top in this case is only based on figures: we belong to the top because we are big in a limited number of fields; by the same token McDonald’s is a ‘top’ restaurant that became big by choosing to limit itself in some respects. But how many people would classify McDonald’s among the top when it comes to culinary achievements?’ Dr Luc Janss of the Animal Sciences Group suggests that Wb was also rather quick in coming to its conclusion that Wageningen UR therefore belongs to the top of the academic world. He writes that we need to also consider the ‘critical mass per square kilometre’ and what constitutes ‘top quality’, and then look again where Wageningen UR stands in the listings.

Lies, damn lies?

ISI provides us with a usable citation instrument, the ‘Web of Science’. But you must be aware of the limitations of this, for example the preference for journals of US origin. Wim de Leijster, from the research school of Experimental Plant Sciences, continues his letter with examples of how different interpretations of statistics can lead to widely differing conclusions.

Can we rest on our laurels? No, according to Wouter Gerritsma who works in the Wageningen UR library, our position is being eroded. The number of publications in two of the three subject areas has declined in the past five years (as can be seen in the Essential Science Indicators, also part of the Web of Knowledge). Fortunately this is compensated for by an increase in the number of citations per article in some subject areas.

Critique also part of life at the top

Floor Verdenius and Hans Schepers write together under the name wurm (also means worm, Ed.), this week over the fact that being at the top means being assertive in both education and research. And scientific assertiveness consists of three elements: clarity, argumentation and critique. So how does Wageningen UR score on these fronts? Is assertiveness a typical part of the culture here? Far from it. Those who make critical noises within Wageningen UR usually receive little response. This is the case for noises from the work floor directed toward management. There have been repeated incidents recently (the Chinese, education, pressure of work, management style) that would justify a reaction from the upper management. But assertiveness in the other direction is also lacking. The authors note that the intranet discussion page set up to encourage public debate on the future of Dutch agriculture by Wageningen UR management remains embarrassingly empty.

We cannot call ourselves assertive, is wurm’s conclusion. Wageningen UR is ruled by a culture in which vagueness is embraced, there is a tendency to run with the pack and treat each other with kid gloves or pass by in silence.

Translation Sara van Otterloo

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