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Theory versus Outcome-Based Research in Europe: Lisbon Strategy and the Flourish of Pseudo-Science?

According to the Lisbon Strategy, European leaders aimed to make European Union „the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world”, by 2010. In this context it is our belief that the European science has been seriously distorted by an obsessive focused on the outcome-based research (OBR) (e.g., problem-solving/practical solutions), while ignoring the theoretical underpinnings of the outcomes. Indeed, as an expert grant evaluator I was concerned to see a lot of high rated European research projects which stated that they will make a review of the relevant literature as a part of the implementation of the proposal (if approved), rather than having the review of the literature as a part of the research proposal! Thus, the theory was secondary to the outcomes, often the researchers jumping to research proposals (OBR), before a full analysis of the relevant literature. However, ignoring the theory could have a dramatic impact on science, implicitly favoring pseudoscience. Let me remind you an illustrative case. In the past Malaria was related to the theory that „bad air” enters into our lungs and generates the disease; rather than testing this theory, o focus on the OBR would suggest to control the „bad air” entering into your house. Indeed, many people tried to control Malaria by locking their windows to prevent to circulation of the „bad air”. Not surprisingly, this was a pretty useful strategy from an OBR. However, only when we developed a good etiological theory of Malaria – that it was generated by a specific parasite disseminated by anopheles mosquito -, we really started to control Malaria at large scale. Closing the windows was useful not because it prevents the circulation of „bad air”, but the circulation of the mosquito and the parasites! If the European science is not aware that an investment on the OBR should always be accompanied by a focus on the theory-based research, we will have, using the above metaphor, „bad air-based technologies” rather than „infections-based technologies”, and Europe could be the most dynamic and competitive pseudoknowledge-based economy in the world.

P.S. We are in 2010! Are we the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world? If not, who will take responsibility for this fail?

Professor, Ph.D., Daniel David
Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New-York, USA