Biotop is an open collective of scientists engaging in the curiosity-driven, cross-disciplinary and collaborative translation of ideas; it is an experiment trying to reinvent the way we do science.
Science and research are endeavours that should be abound with idealism and innovative thinking. Yet many young researchers are becoming increasingly disillusioned by the prospect of pursueing a career in academia. The reasons driving this development are systemic:
The rigid institutional structure of universities and research centres creates a context where linearity of career paths has become a primary selection criterion for success. This quenches innovation, is a source of existential anxiety for young scientists and inhibits interdisciplinarity ( Afonso 2013 blogs.lse.ac.uk , Woolston 2016 Nature ).
The ever-expanding spectrum of scientific disciplines and sub-disciplines creates a real measurement-problem at the heart of science: How do public and private bodies that fund science assess the quality of scientific output of researchers, whose valuable work may only be fully comprehended by a handful of people? The answer is an over-reliance on aggregated metrics such as the number of publications in high impact journals, with the result of a distorted scientific culture that predominantly fosters fashionable and novel research, and lacks incentives to warrant reproducibility of studies and to openly share ideas.
In light of increasing specialisation, the lack of interdisciplinarity and failure to integrate outreach activities in the research process creates a communication problem: Not only does it become increasingly difficult to communicate ones research to scientists within and between fields of scientific inquiry, science is edging away from the broader public. When science fails to communicate the scope and value of the insights it produces, the aforementioned measurement problem becomes aggravated, the very notion of publicly funded research falls under scrutiny, and opportunities for valuable feedback are lost.
As group of early career scientsts, Biotop is our attempt at taking our future in Science - and in part the future of Science - into our own hands. The idea of establishing a research network as an ecosystem that fosters a research culture that truly deserves this name forms the basis for our attempt.
We believe that this cornerstone is only achieveable through an integrative approach, guided by the principles of interdisciplinary, collaborative basic reasearch ( Brown 2015 Nature , Eddy 2005 PLoS Comput. Biol. ), as well as the scientific sibling of the open source movement, open science.
To this end, it is pivotal to create an organisational culture that fosters transdisciplinary collaboration in small teams on an institutional level. In addition, science communication and collaboration with artists shall become cornerstones of the day-to-day work. We aim to actively engage the public in our reserach process in the context of citizen science projects ( Editorial 2015 Nature , Bonney 2014 Science ), and to provide the public with emancipatory tools such as data visualisation platforms to facilitate and encourage access to complex problems.
Another component of our idea of designing our organisational culture from the ground up and with the public in mind, is to form innovation partnerships where we accompany members of the public, who have identified a particular problem in their daily life, and provide them with tools, scientific expertise and design competence to collaboratively work on solutions.
Our research will focus on problems that arise at the interface between biology, chemistry, physics, computer science and applied mathematics, such as research questions concerned with computational genomics, regulation in biological systems, or the development of self-organising materials, as well as the investgation of complex systems in the context of biology, neuroscience and economics.
Moreover, the principle of open science demands that we actively engage in problems of scientific publishing and the development of open source laboratory hardware platforms.
We aim to act both internationally, as well as regionally. On a local level, we plan to establish a site in Villach, Austria, which shall serve as central hub for our activities.