Bureaucracy is the ennemy of Science, or is it?

Wikipedia defines bureaucracy has having the following three properties:

  • well-defined division of labor;
  • consistent patterns of recruitment and stable linear careers;
  • authority and status are differentially distributed among actors.

Yet, we should all suspect, at least intuitively, that bureaucracy is the enemy of Science. Science is all about discovery and innovation. Bureaucracy is all about control and stability. At best, it is a strange mix.

I’d like to propose that, to foster better Science, we need this type of organization:

  • no formal division of labor;
  • varied recruitment and careers;
  • authority is emerging and ephemeral.

Most researchers I know spend a great deal of their time filling out forms to get grants, or managing students or assistants in order to sustain the linear growth of their careers. Recruitment follows very strict patterns, at least in academic circles. It seems that more and more researchers are actually managers. In 2007, Science mostly occurs inside bureaucracies! What does it mean? Does the innovation really occur inside these bureaucracies? Could the Chinese industry, with a much weaker recent history of academic research, prove more innovative than occidental industries? What am I going to eat for lunch?

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the Université du Québec (TELUQ).

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