It’s about the science we do

My last blog post was written in German and published on one of my other blogs; it presents the results of a hackathon-like workshop given at the DHd conference in Paderborn at the beginning of March 2020. I tell about a dog no human eye had really noticed on an old photograph which a saliency predictor highlighted, leaving us wonder as much about our ability to see as about the IA training and performance. 

Right after that, I was happy to host on this very blog a first guest post by Floriane Chiffoleau, who has started working on the DAHN project at the beginning of March 2020. This project is giving me an opportunity to start developing again the digital edition platform used for Letters and texts and I am just thrilled to see things move on with Floriane’s input. 

Having to make choices and prioritize all day long between helping the kids with homework, feeding everyone properly, organizing sports-like activities, doing laundry, calling friends and family, keeping the house about tidy, sending input to the students, answering their questions about grading (the answer still being that we are not authorized to grade and won’t be for the next 2 weeks, and that we don’t really know what will happen then…), etc., the time there is left for research is technically: none. But it turns out to be very complicated for me to watch research go on and fly by and not to be able to do a thing. Somehow confinement seems to be giving wings to some people who spend a lot of time working on grant applications. My feelings are really anything but noble there, somewhere between envy, despise, incomprehension, anger… one of the reasons I turned down the twitter faucet is because I was unable to control my own emotions in the face of other researchers’ reaction to the confinement, between those who look for or provide additional online ressources to keep themselves busy, those who compile COVID-19 data compulsively and those (280 teams in total!) who manage to answer a flash call from the French government for coronavirus research. I don’t want to be a scientist if that’s what it is now that we do.

Deadlines have been postponed, yes. A few events have even been cancelled. But all in all, we are only deporting on the rest of the year what should have taken place in the 2 coming months. Nothing is changing. The relief to see the deadlines postponed and the feeling to now “have time” to get organized have long gone. Due reviews are piling up and will take me up to July. I wanted to reach in a proposal in a specific call for proposals and if it weren’t for the people who believe in this idea and want it to get realized, I would have given up by now, even if the deadline has been postponed. 

This is about the science we do, about the way we do science. The confinement took the French Research community by surprise in the midst of a huge protest action against unstable jobs, against arbitrary and insufficient fundings, against reducing lecturers to some sort of randomly replaceable input for online ressources. The confinement is forcing us to do all that against which we had been protesting, and we do it: for our students’ sake, for the sake of those who depend on not-fixed contracts, but mostly we do it for our own sake. As if we were too weak to admit that if we stop, everything stops. Everything would really stop. And maybe we would be able to ask ourselves what the science is that we want.

The only thing that can come out of it the way it is going now is that the strong ones will be even stronger and the weak ones even weaker. For instance, I can’t see how this cannot handicap women in Academia for a long, long time, and erase years of little steps forward. 

The science I would like to do now is a science that would be different, or something that would make the science we do different. The two hours a week I manage to save for research will be dedicated to this goal.

And also to enjoying the cherry tree blossom in the garden of yet another neighbour.

 

Cherry tree, Le Mans, March 27th 2020.

Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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