Comment: Non-transparent funding of research projects must come to an end

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Comment: Non-transparent funding of research projects must come to an end

The Society for Freedom Rights (GFF) wants to force the University of Mainz to publish information about research collaborations with Chinese companies. The university refuses, although the GFF believes that it is its legal obligation to publish such information. According to this, she wants to prevent extensive cooperation with Chinese companies that are “massively involved in human rights crimes” from becoming public, according to the press release on the lawsuit, which was filed with the competent administrative court in the spring.

But the case goes far beyond the possibly ethically problematic cooperation between the University of Mainz and certain companies. It highlights the lack of transparency in the German research landscape. Experts have been complaining about them for years, but it hardly changes anything. The people of Mainz may be particularly obstinate – but they are not the only ones who try to serve their private financiers as discreetly as possible. The volume of third-party funding at German universities has been growing for years. However, who does research there for whom with what interests often remains in the dark.

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As if these regulations weren’t already toothless enough, universities hide the information on externally funded projects in the depths of their web presence, split it up according to faculty, or instead of short descriptions, at best, list technocratic project titles. And if you don’t want to appear openly as a client, you always have the option of advancing a foundation or an association. The transparency actually required by the law is being weakened again bit by bit.

In short: there is no public control of research financed with third-party funds – although the clients use the publicly financed universities and significantly influence the direction of research through their activities. And one can – without spreading conspiracy theories at the same time – claim that it should be like that. Because neither the federal government, the state governments or the universities, and certainly not the companies involved, are interested in too much transparency, which could possibly scare away one or the other shy donor. Only the public might be interested. That is the real scandal and not the question of whether any Chinese companies are funding research at the University of Mainz.

After studying physics, Wolfgang Stieler switched to journalism in 1998. He worked at c’t until 2005, when he was the editor of the Technology Review. There he oversees a wide range of topics from artificial intelligence and robotics to network policy and questions of future energy supply.


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