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Research funding agencies: unpredictable, and excellence is not enough

After receiving two excellent (6), and one outstanding review (7) we at least thought we had a chance of getting funding. Surprisingly, our overall mark by the panel is … 5 (very good)! And we did not get the money.

Their arguments for downgrading our proposal are first not in any way doing justice to all the different types of information they were asking for (Management Plan, Pathways to impact, etc.). I was wondering where they needed all this information for (such a waste of time for researchers having so many interesting things to do), but apparently not for evaluation purposes.

What is quite painful is that they so obviously mix things up. They state:

Where the project is less convincing however, is how it plans to study and incorporate actual, or planned practices of data mining.”

 

Fair enough, they might have been less convinced about the data mining part of the project. However, they continue with:

“For instance, hackers are one group of actors, and security services another.”

 

This does not refer to the data mining sub-project, it refers to the “hacking”-part (as is confirmed by their next sentence). What is even more painful is that they do not seem to be aware of the scope of the project, which is hacking by … intelligence agencies and the police.

 

The real reason for rejecting our project seems to be a part that I admittedly did not understand. The gender issue:

 

“In terms of paying attention to the gender dimensions the project fails to deliver however. The brief, rather defensive statement misses the point of considering the gendered implications to how privacy and data‐retention are both perceived by ordinary citizens, and then ruled upon in the courts. Gender is also an analytical dimension to account for even for an all‐male team.”

 

I really do not understand what they say. Not in the least because we had at least three women in our team. So perception of privacy by citizens has a gender issue? Do they mean women perceive privacy differently than men? So that in our analysis of privacy we had to make a distinction between male and female feelings about privacy? It must be my ignorance but I was not aware of the fact that fundamental rights (religion, freedom of speech, privacy, etc.) had a gender dimension. Probably I missed some literature here. What annoys me is that it seems this aspect ruined the project even this panel from the funding agencies described as:

 

“This proposal is very well written and deals with a compelling set of issues around regulation and jurisprudence in terms of data‐retention at the EU level. It is convincing in terms of looking at the ECtHR and the CJEU together, for there is work to be done in this regard from the point of view of legal analysis. The panel found this application very relevant to the call, and the area being addressed very interesting.”

 

Lots of “very”. It does illustrate what so many researchers are complaining about. These procedures are so arbitrary. Even if you write a great proposal, with a good researchers (“#1 good research team and a good network of academic and practitioner relations; #2 The research group is great; #3 The research group comprises of well-known experts in various topic areas) you are left with a feeling of dissatisfaction. And you think more than twice before drafting another proposal. Or, to finish with lyrics from today’s Nobel laureate from the song “Don’t think twice it’s alright”:

 

Well, it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe

Even you don't know by now

And it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe

It'll never do somehow

 

P.S. I just checked the gender part in our submission. So from our 57 page proposal, from a team with 5 women and 6 men (all male?!) we made the mistake of not writing down some empty words about gender. One of the *female* team members Googled yesterday for gender & privacy, big data, surveillance etc. and she did get one hit: Rob van den Hoven van GENDERen.

 

Gender perspectives

Description of relevant gender perspectives in the proposed research

Gender does not play a prominent role in the research, if at all. We focus on the processing of data by intelligence agencies and law enforcement, and the personal data can relate to either females or males. For the evaluation, analysis, etc., it may play a minor role, but, if any, not one that deserves further considerations.



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