Horizon 2020: How Does European Research on Yoga Resemble a Drug Gang?

In 2013, Alexandre Afonso blogged How Academia Resembles a Drug Gang citing research from 2000 from economist Steven Levitt and sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh about the internal wage structure of a Chicago drug gang in an academic quarterly on economics.

[For drug dealers…] the prospect of future wealth, rather than current income and working conditions, is the main driver for people to stay in the business: low-level drug sellers forgo current income for (uncertain) future wealth.

Meanwhile the European commission in research and innovation agreed to fund a European Research Council (ERC) starting grant for Entangled Histories of Yoga, Ayurveda and Alchemy in South Asia1) under Horizon 2020 (the biggest EU research and innovation programme ever)2) where increasing numbers of PhD's have been competing for funds destined for the cream of excellent European researchers:

[…] three hundred researchers received a starting grant from ERC in 2013, with a success rate of about 10%.

By increasing competition for a small number (yes, 300 is a small number for the whole of Europe – in 2010 around 100,000 PhDs were awarded in the EU) of positions, the ERC is not actually smoothing the transition from early career to established researcher in Europe.

On the contrary, ERC grants are increasing inequality (and thus stress) among researchers. It has already been argued that academia, which relies on a supply of outsiders who are willing to forgo decent wages in the hope of getting a well-paid and prestigious tenured job, resembles a the dynamics of a drug gang – ERC grants are making the situation worse. Anonymous Academic, European research funding: it’s like Robin Hood in reverse (2014) The Guardian

The grant made for the project is worth up to €1.32m, which is insanely generous compared to most other post-doctorate contracts and an opportunity possibly as rare as the arowana especially when there are widespread research funding cuts across Europe.

Perhaps it's not surprising then to find a book originally funded through a murky Kickstarter project being shoehorned into a publicly funded project, no doubt upping the royalties from private book sales along the way for the benefit of Principal Investigator Dr. James Mallinson and Senior Researcher Dr. Mark Singleton:

Screenshot showing promotional material for the Roots of Yoga published by Penguin Classics

If the ERC paid any attention to how its funding is being used to promote private book sales then perhaps it would be in a better position to target research funding towards more worthy areas, such as projects that support women working in proven areas of science, engineeringand technology.

At the moment the project on youtube is in no danger of displacing even the most amateurish videos of cats doing stupid things shot on mobile devices, telling us a lot about the Entangled Histories… project value to wider society.

While the recruitment of researchers funded by Horizon 2020 doesn't seem to be subject to the level of monitoring, audit and sanctions the public probably would expect, such overly generous awards of this kind suggests European research has lost contact with the real world, preferring mediocre candidates that do not seem to have any obligation towards demonstrating any positive social impact for their work to the public, stakeholders and policy makers, happily promoting their own private interests with no obvious public benefit.


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