17|03|13: Thomas König on ERC history

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to welcome Thomas König to the Special Colloquium at IST Austria. Here is my introduction:

„If there is one single number which explains IST Austria, its organization and its scientific success to politicians, entrepreneurs, bureaucrats and journalists in Austria and abroad it is the number of ERC grants as fraction of the faculty. This number impresses non-scientists like no other, this number is quoted most frequently. Currently (as of March 10, 2017) this number is at 33 ERC grants (for 28 ERC grantees) out of a faculty of 46.

This number allows a couple of assumptions:

  • IST Austria seems to suit the requirements of the ERC very well.
  • The ERC has acquired the status of a gold standard at least in the formal, physical and life sciences in Europe.
  • The ERC has become a trademark even beyond the realm of science.

This number also leads to a couple of questions:

  • Do the ERC grants truly represent scientific excellence or rather the ability of the participating institutions to run very efficient grant offices?
  • Does the high level of appreciation by non-scientists devalue its relevance within the scientific community?
  • How sustainable is the ERC, its funding and its spirit?

The person to tackle these assumptions and questions today is Thomas König.

Thomas König is a social scientist specializing on the relationship of science and politics. After studying political science and history in Vienna, Copenhagen, and Minneapolis, Thomas has held positions both in academia and in policy-making – one of them acting as adviser to Helga Nowotny, herself first vice-president, and then president of the ERC 2010-2014. In 2014, Thomas was a Fulbright Scholar at Harvard University. Besides several other academic publications, he recently published the first historical assessment of the European Research Council (with Polity, Cambridge UK). Currently, he works as strategic advisor to the director of the Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna, and is looking forward to a half-year parental leave with his younger daughter, Lucy.“

Thomas was so kind to put his slides online