— Completely new fundamental thinking is required in academia

— Completely new fundamental thinking is required in academia

Nordic countries

Maria Toft resigned and took a strong stance against the “toxic culture of fear” on campuses. Now she is urging her fellow researchers to join a new movement.

Danish Maria Toft made a name for herself through her petitions in Denmark, and last year she resigned from her research position at the University of Copenhagen. Now she wants to tear up current academia at its roots and think anew.

“Free Scholars Movement” is the name.

On one A seminar In Gothenburg from April 5 to 7, a manifesto for the new Scandinavian research movement will be written. The statement will contain the state of the role and responsibility of science today, and constitute a vision for an academic system based on care and trust.

“This is unplowed land,” says Maria Toft.

She has made a name for herself in both Denmark and Norway with two research policy campaigns that have set the agenda and generated controversy in Danish academia.

In the spring of 2022, the campaign began #Please don't steal my workIn collaboration with the Doctoral Association Network in Denmark (PAND). In a short time, stories of so-called research theft or unsubstantiated co-authorship (ghost authorship) poured in.


This is “ghost authoring”

“Ghost authoring” can occur, for example:

  • In multi-authored articles where one of them contributed very little or not at all. The author may have merely checked for misspellings, grammatical errors, or viewed the laboratory facilities.
  • In those master's theses are rewritten into research articles where the student behind them is not credited.
  • Theoretical ideas are simply stolen without credit being given to the person behind the idea.
  • By an older or more deserving academic applying for research funding for a project that younger colleagues have developed to work on themselves.
  • When research data is used without the person collecting the data being aware of it or being acknowledged for the work.

(List taken from the campaign #Please don't steal my work)

Later that year, Toft was one of the initiators behind the campaign #sætforskningenfri. Eventually, more than 2,000 Danish researchers signed an open letter to Danish politicians, warning against top-managed universities and the pressure on freedom of research.

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#Please don't steal my work

She has started a campaign against research theft: — I know I can do it

Leave the job

She describes the reactions after the two campaigns as two-fold. On the one hand, the campaigns sparked greater discussion about the challenges in academia, but they were also subject to threats, which, according to Tufte, made it difficult to continue working on her PhD.

So she resigned from her position as a research fellow at the University of Copenhagen, taking a strong stance against what she believed was one of these ideas. The toxic culture of fear on campuses.

– Then a year passed, and another election was held in Denmark. Then he forgot everything, somehow. It got me thinking about this in terms of political change, and how you work to change what you want to change. Ironically, by disagreeing with it, you help preserve what you oppose. “It made me want to go down a completely different path and create something new,” Toft says.

She believes that the main challenge facing the current research system is prioritizing quantity over quality.

– It is as if we have forgotten the basic essence of science. I compare the research process to being an artist. It is the “love stage.” An artist often starts with an idea that comes in the bathroom while going for a walk or something. You don't know where it comes from, but the idea just comes. Then the painter begins drawing, or field work or experiment on our part. Finally, you're done. Then you think about it and talk about it. But today there are not many new pictures being painted in the world of research, because there is almost only room for the last speculative phase.


He resigns and takes a strong stance: “A toxic culture of fear permeates universities.”

Funding received

The design of the new research movement, and what it will contain, will largely be decided at the symposium at the beginning of April. So far, 19 participants have registered.

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-So you want a new system. But the current system is also a system driven by powerful interests and billions of kroner. How will you be able to challenge her?

– In my opinion, small adjustments are not enough. It requires completely new fundamental thinking in academia, because we have moved so far away from the ideals of science. Now we will decide together how it should look. This is the first time we are meeting in Gothenburg, and the goal is primarily to create international appeal. “We have received funds from Nordic Summer University for the next three years, during which time we will explore what an alternative system might look like physically and organizationally,” Toft says.

This process is precisely what Tufte believes the new search movement should be like: trying to make your way without a clear goal in sight.

-We can't say how it will end. Even if we don't know which road we're going to take, it doesn't mean we should avoid the road. It is again our need to control and know where we are going. This is what we are used to from research. We must have the hypothesis and answer clear before we do any research at all. This is exactly what we want to remove. We have a sense of what kind of movement we want, but we don't know what it should look like, Toft says.


I was tired of “going through hell” and quit my job

– Illusion

Professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Oslo (UiO), Jan Helge Solbaek, also took part in the movement. For several years, he has been interested in the conditions young scientists face on their way into academia.

– When scandals happen, they quickly turn into a few bad apples, and we have to remove them. You're not looking at the culture itself, and how researchers relate to each other. All the focus is on their work and load, i.e. “output”. How much have you published, how much money have you been able to raise, and how many researchers have you been able to hire. Solbak says there is little focus on who this researcher is.

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In 2022, Jan Helge Solbaek received a scholarship worth NOK 25 million from the ERC Advance Grant. Solback says this collaboration with FRIPRO is the only opportunity researchers have to engage in curiosity-oriented research.

Solbakk currently has one ERC Advance Grant where he will research unsolvable medical dilemmas. The project aims to develop tools that help healthcare workers make decisions and live with them when there is no ethically correct solution.

— It is the only type of “grant” in which you as a researcher are given complete freedom to develop your project exactly as you want. I must report three times within five years, to report what I used the money for. Today, the ERC, along with FRIPRO, is the only source of funding that provides opportunities for curiosity-oriented research. All other research goes into what is called utility-oriented research. Solback says it is an illusion that this is research that should be invested in.

Greater risk

The head of donor organizations in Norway (SiN), Ingvild Bergum Lunde, also supports Tofte's description of the problem. For her, there are several things that indicate that change is necessary.

-We have a lot of research that shows that mental illness, especially among scholarship holders, is a big problem. Some studies also show that scholarship holders are more likely to develop mental illness than other highly educated work groups.

Lundy also points to a 2022 survey that shows this Only 15 percent of doctoral candidates With the completion of commissioning in the period 2010-2016 within record time.

– Explains that the requirements set by the Academy for scholarship holders are not up to scratch. We need a movement that can think differently about how to care for colleagues and ensure a healthy environment that inspires and allows you to be a human being and a researcher, says Lundy, who adds that the SiN board is currently working on how they should position themselves in relation to the movement.

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Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

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