Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Dr Jean-Claude Worms of the European Science Foundation Threatens Critics of ESF Policy: He Should Resign or Be Sacked - Effective Immediately.

Obviously the European basic science funding flagship, the European Science Foundation (ESF) is in a sorry state if anything even akin to this can happen. I have the story from my math colleague here in Gothenburg, Olle Häggström's blog, and he refers further to Retraction Watch.

In short, astrophysicist Amaya Moro-Martin published an opinion piece in Nature, criticising current European and EU science policies (in particular funding cuts), among many other things mentioning the ESF as an peripheral actor in the dismantling of Portuguese science institutions:

There are too many examples to list, but here are some of the most prominent: since 2009, Italy has seen recruitment of scientists fall by 90% and the amount spent on basic research drop to nothing. In Spain, the amount of money spent on civilian research and development has dropped by 40%, and fewer than 10% of researchers who retire are being replaced. Since 2011, the budget of Greek research centres and universities has halved, with a freeze on hiring. Already reeling from budget cuts of 50% for universities and research centres, Portugal may now have to close half of its research units because of a flawed evaluation process supported by the European Science Foundation.

To this, the head of the ESF’s Science Support Office, Dr. Jean-Claude Worms reacts badly. But does he then send a reply to Nature, or even post a comment in the open commentary field attached to Moro-Martin's article? He does not. Instead, he behaves in astonishingly fable-like similarity to what you would expect by the animal suggested by his surname, sending the following letter to Moro-Martin (originally made public here):

Dear Amaya Moro-Martin,
The European Science Foundation hereby requests that you retract the following allegation contained within your opinion piece published on 8 October in Nature (Volume 514, Issue 7521). [Portugal may now have to close half of its research units] because of a flawed evaluation process supported by the European Science Foundation. The European Science Foundation refutes any allegation that the process was flawed and considers that the statement cited above is slanderous, as the independent work performed in the framework of the evaluation of FCT research units followed the best international practices. While the European Science Foundation is cited in your paper, it is highly regrettable that no one from our organisation was interviewed and no request for clarification made. In addition, and as you may be aware, the Portuguese national union for higher education has launched a formal legal action on the evaluation process, and this has not yet come to a conclusion. If your allegation is not publically retracted in Nature, the European Science Foundation will be compelled to take appropriate legal action.
Dr. Jean-Claude Worms
Head of Science Support Office European Science Foundation
That's right, a high representative and manager of a supposedly leading international science organisation is responding to criticism (the very blood of science) of this organisation's policies with threat of a libel lawsuit. This is not only way lower than any slimy worm would ever venture into the manure, it is formally completely unacceptable behaviour by a person in Worms' position of office. My colleague, Olle, is overly polite about it when asking the ESF chief executive, Martin Hynes, to have Dr. Worms' letter "retracted". My bid is this: Dr. Worms has conclusively proven that he has no place in any sort of science leadership position and should resign his office at ESF, effective immediately. If he does not, he should be be swiftly removed from this position of honour and trust, which he has so gravely abused.