Fionn Murtagh’s Blog

Themes: information economy, intellectual property, research

Archive for the ‘research’ Category

Innovation in Research Publishing and in Funding Proposals, both Quality and Quantifying

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How is this to be assessed: both the quantification of, and the quality of, innovation in research publications, and in research proposals requesting research funding.  This important paper, by me, and Michael Orlov and Boris Mirkin (Michael and Boris in the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow): “Qualitative judgement of research impact: domain taxonomy as a fundamental framework for judgement of the quality of research”. 
This is published in Journal of Classification, vol. 35, pp. 5-28, 2018.   (Published article; preprint of this.)

In this article, Murtagh et al. (2018), we present the case for (i) stratification rather than ranking, (ii) qualitative analytics based on taxonomies of the domain. This work aims to be both monitoring and revealing, in regard to research work, towards decision-making, on the part of publication editors and research funders.

A very important issue raised: Horizon 2020 FET-Open (Future Emerging Technologies) recorded less than 1.4% successful research proposals. Ethically and in all respects, there should be analytics carried out in regard to the more than 98% rejected research funding proposals. This should lead to studying what has been proposed and then rejected, to know all that was proposed in regard to continuing importance to be carried out, and also what entire sets of objectives that had been at issue, and whether such objectives can be pursued in some other way.

When a Director of the main research funding agency in Ireland, this methodology was initially discussed in my Sixth Boole Lecture, April 2008, Boole Lecture Theatre, University College Cork, and published:
F. Murtagh, “The Correspondence Analysis platform for uncovering deep structure in data and information”, Sixth Boole Lecture, Computer Journal, 53 (3), 304-315, 2010.

This continues to be at issue in my most recent book, F. Murtagh, Data Science Foundations: Geometry and Topology of Complex Hierarchic Systems and Big Data Analytics, Chapman and Hall/CRC, 2017. (Publisher’s website.)

I will take this assessment of innovation in research publishing and relate that also to the relevance and the role of rejected journal submissions. That will be so important for the countries that now produce the vast majority of journal submissions. Motivation for this comes also from an outstanding research publication of mine, published in an innovative journal, and the previous submission to a journal where I had published previous work, that had a reviewer report with this statement: “This is not state of the art, it is all new work, therefore it must be rejected.”

Following that, for journal submissions, it may be useful to take such study to the research funding agencies in many countries, that I support in reviewing and recommending or not recommending research funding.


Written by Fionn Murtagh

2018/06/03 at 23:04

The University in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility

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The University in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility

To consider our epoch now of the university in the age of its technical reproducibility, this is an insightful article by Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility” treats ultimately all of art, when reproduction and hence commodification has become the order of the day. These books have versions of this article: Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-1940 (pages 251-283), Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 3, 1935-1938 (pages 101-133), published by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, in 2002.

The essence of art can survive but its nature is quite different from what art was before it became part and parcel of our industrial environment. The context is: “It has always been one of the primary tasks of art to create a demand whose hour of satisfaction has not yet come.” And he quotes André Breton with this: “The artwork has value only insofar as it is alive to reverberations of the future.” This too is very insightful: “The technological reproducibility of the artwork changes the relation of the masses to art.” (The point made then is the shift of interest and engagement, for instance from a Picasso painting to, instead, a Chaplin film.)

Here are copies of this article, among others, that are online. Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit ( dieser Artikel).
Ceci est un article par Yannick Maignien intitulé L’oeuvre d’art à l’époque de sa reproduction numérisée (l’article).
An saothar ealaíne i ré a athchruthaithe ar bhonn meicniúil .
Agus anseo anois, Taighde Eolaíochta agus Léann i Ré a n-Athchruthaithe ar Bhonn Meicniúil.
Jetzt, “Wissenschaftliche Forschung und Formation im Zeitalter seinen technischen Reproduzierbarkeit”
Maintenant, La recherche scientifique et l’enseignement à l’époque de leur reproduction mécanisée .
Now, Research and Teaching and Learning in the Age of Their Technical Reproducibility.

Here is a photo of Walter Banjamin’s grave in Portbou, Catalonia, Spain. The grave, to the fore in this photo, has the Mediterranean just visible down in the centre of the photo.


The following are notes relating to how the university as an institution has now become commoditized, such that a university or similar institute can be reproduced at will, of course assuming the resources are made available.

It is not just alone that teaching and learning have become commoditized, nor research.

Teaching and Learning

Employability has become the key issue in teaching and learning, having replaced the concept of career, which now belongs to the distant past. The right hand side advertising of jobs appears in vast numbers, in London and elsewhere. It is pleasant to note that the left hand side advertisement, indicating 130,000 jobs, that dates from early 2016. Now, however, there are 150,000 advertised.




In an article by Chris Havergal in the Times Higher Education, Death of the university greatly exaggerated, says Michael Crow – At THE World Academic Summit, academics and entrepreneurs debate impact of technology on teaching, Entrepreneurs who predict the death of the university have “no idea what they are talking about” – Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University.


The past decade or more has seen the fantastic growth of research output by India, China, and other nations including Iran, Korea and others. China spent more than GBP 100 billion in R&D funding in 2012 alone.

However, the following is all too clear for all of us.

Thomas Estermann, director for governance, funding and public policy development at European University Association, spoke to Times Higher Education about its findings. “Low success rates are a huge issue for Europe,” he says. Not only are they inefficient, as the time spent developing proposals is wasted, but they can demotivate academics and top research ideas and potential groundbreaking discoveries may be rejected, he adds.

From: H. Else, “Billions lost in bids to secure EU research funding. Study highlights the true cost of low success rates in Horizon 2020”, in Times Higher Education, 6 Oct. 2016.

The following is one useful thing to do, and perhaps even ethical: to analyse all that is rejected. A framework that can also include this is at issue in a paper that is in press in Journal of Classification. Authors: Fionn Murtagh, Michael Orlov, Boris Mirkin, and title: “Qualitative Judgement of Research Impact: Domain Taxonomy as a Fundamental Framework for Judgement of the Quality of Research”, and here is a preprint.

Research Funding: Funding for Outputs, Please, and not for Ego

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Chris Horn has written, “Commercial success, at least in IT, is not driven by the size of R&D spend.” This is very true, in Ireland as elsewhere.

There has been concern expressed in Ireland by various sources recently about the lack of commercial impact from university research. A critical reason for this, from my observations, is that the objective of research funding in Ireland has been far too much focused on ego rather than output.

The former, funding for ego, includes the following, quite dysfunctional aspects from the point of view of the whole system of human capital. It takes the form of funding units of activity that are hermetically sealed off from the natural hinterland in the university system. Included here are:

  • the lack of any role in undergraduate teaching or curriculum,
  • separate physical location, and
  • reporting lines that are outside mainstream university structures.

This is a weakness in current research funding in Ireland, i.e. how the funding is spent on highly profiled yet splendidly isolated activity.

Another dysfunctional aspect is that related and complementary disciplines, and vital supply lines of expertise from various disciplines, have all now been ended, in the limited form that these were once present. Mathematics and astronomy come immediately to mind, where there is enormous negativity among public servants.

This has been backed up by views among senior public servants that are disparaging and dismissive of those disciplines and of the higher education system as a whole. A recent example from the Government of Ireland’s Chief Scientific Adviser: “It’s very difficult to herd cats, but I can certainly change the position of their feeding bowl.” Or another Director-General of Science Foundation Ireland: “SFI funding is social welfare for universities”.

How to achieve commercial and social impact based on scholarship and learning is as follows. In measuring outputs the multifaceted forms of all of these need to be considered. Innovative ways to find and achieve impact on the economy are crucial to both the system outputs and the quantification of the system processes. What is needed is a whole system approach, starting with higher education which has come to be the major context for research and scholarship, and its spin-off and launchpad impact. Hence the importance of the roles of all disciplines in the body of knowledge, and understanding outputs rather than the pursuit of an ego-based system.

  • Portfolio management, across all of education, commercialization and business, scholarship, and public leadership are crucial in order to ensure continuity through natural and strategically planned evolution and growth.

  • Integration, firstly into the higher education system and more generally into the commercial and governance fabric, is vital for sustainability too.

Those are my two foremost requirements for a properly functioning research and scholarship system, that will be productive over the long term. They are my own motivation as a researcher and as a research leader, with a long track record in scholarship and research commercialisation with impact which is non-ego driven. Over time, I have observed just how very wasteful and unsustainable the alternative is.