One of France’s most prolific scientific authors, turns out, is actually a form of protest.
Camille Noûs is one very busy bee. His or her scientific writings span subjects from molecular biology to geography and socio-economics. Needless to say, such an impressive body of work earned them stellar metrics in international rankings, and quite a bit of clout. Which makes the fact that Camille Noûs isn’t a real person just a tad embarrassing.
Fake for a cause
Noûs (which means ‘us’ or ‘we’ in French) is the product of RogueESR, a group of French academics that “work in higher education and research” and “strongly reject the education and research policy pursued by the current government”. The fictitious author was meant to show how easily current research ranking systems can be exploited.
“The dazzling scores of Camille Noûs in the international rankings will quickly illustrate the absurdity of the indicators used to evaluate the research output,” the group explained for Liberation.
Camille has been publishing for around one year now, having co-authored an impressive amount of studies already. It is a “symbolic character” aiming to show that research is a collaborative process, not one where individual ‘stars’ advance fields and ideas on their own.
The existence of Camille is meant to poke holes in the French government’s emphasis on meritocracy (or ‘Darwinism’ in the words of the president of the French National Center for Scientific Research, CNRS) that, the group feels, completely denies this collective process.
“I saw it as an act of protest, a good way to demonstrate the fact that the way in which scientific publishing and scientific evaluation work is [done is] not in line with academic values,” explains Stéphane André, professor at the University of Lorraine and one of the first to put the name of Camille Noûs as co-author of one of his articles.
“The advent of rankings based on the list of published articles pushes researchers to no longer want to advance knowledge but their own number of publications. ”
An independent administrative authority has been set up by the French government — the High Council for the Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES). In essence, this body is tasked with deciding who is excellent and who is not, and a key metric they use to determine this is (ultimately) how many papers each researcher has published.
For most of us, this isn’t the most consequential piece of news. But in the grand scheme of things, how research is done has a massive impact on our quality of life — it creates the medical devices and techniques we use to stay healthy, produces new and better goods, improves productivity, and so on.
Camille Noûs may be fictional, but the issues that made them necessary are very real. Science is not a perk only some are allowed, it should not be a trapping of the elites. It’s something that affects all of us, and it’s something everybody should get to further and enjoy. It also shows that many researchers are tired with the current academic setting, the monopoly of entities such as journals or councils that decide their fate based on skewed or arbitrary metrics.