There are two fundamentally different ways of financing scientific research: You can either trust your researchers because you believe in their long-term commitment or you cannot trust your researchers and base your financing on their individual interests. At the Annual General Meeting of the Max Planck PhDnet in Jena (28-31 October 2009), the President of the Max Planck Society, Prof. Peter Gruss, explained the two systems that were defined by K. U. Mayer in 2002. According to him low-trust funding results in short-term investments and potentially in high but uneven returns wheras high-trust funding leads to long-term investment and stable but maybe somewhat lower returns. Examples of short-term “low trust” funding include project funding by DFG and others wheras the Max Planck Society receives high trust funding which includes internal evaluation and ex-post evaluation. While high trust funding comes with the potential problem of personal inflexibility due to long-term tenure, low trust funding may lead to low cooperation and low loyality due to short-time tenure.
While low trust funding fosters competition, according to Prof. Gruss, only high trust funding can be applied for basic research where the next great idea might be out of the mainstream funding that is the automatic result of ex-ante evaluation by your peers.
In today’s science world, what do we need? Do we really need more competition? Or should we rather aim for more cooperation and long-term investments? Since many of today’s science projects are planned in decades rather than in months, it seems very strange that an increasing fraction of scientists is only hired on a few-year basis with no reliable career opportunities for the future.