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Session 1 - Processes in Research

Participants: Markus, Florian, Berna, Pedro, Flavia, Guilherme, Robin, Maria, Julia, Mona, Richard (later)

After the get to know each other, we had a longer coffee break during which the last participants arrived. Before Markus had distributed copies of his inspirational text (see below), such that the people could start reading during the break. We started the session with Markus summarizing one argument of his text:

“Do you think that the research process is lost in academic science? And if yes, do you think this is bad?”

The discussion manifested around two kind of controversial arguments that had their supporters.

Guilherme / Pedro / Flavio:
The research process is very complex and confusing. Since time is very limited in every form of presentation of the scientific work, it is better to leave out process completely. This also has the advantage that other people are less biased and are encouraged to give better examples.

Markus / Berna / Florian / Robin / (Maria?) / Mona (later Richard): The outcome/result of a process depends on the process, thus it matters a lot how we arrived there. Some people argued that the outcome is completely dependent on the process. Mona/ Markus mention Picasso and the development of La Guernica which he documented. We can A learn from such documentations, and B Picasso changed his concept during the painting and it was never clear which would be the outcome. Many participants argued that this might be true in arts, but in hard sciences like physics the outcome is predetermined. Berna responds that even if this might be true, still one process could be more effective or less difficult and thus it is very important to think about and deal with it.

During this discussion, the topic of how constraint science is came up. We summarize this discussion in session three, where it came up again. Pedro: natural laws are the constraints of science thus there is no choice like in arts. Robin/Robert: maybe only the language of mathematics is constraining.

The discussion turns more the the question: “What is actually research process and how do you deal with and document your process?” Robin: “Since process is complicated, one can try to focus on the most important parts of it and one example is, when I changed my mind about something and this is worth to document.” Berna keeps a lab book as a kind of “obsession”. Flavio/Guilherme typically do not do any documentation and do not regard it as helpful. Flavio highlights the important aspect of speaking to fellow scientists in the process of doing science. Guilherme says for him writing down stuff sometimes feels egoistic. Mona as an artist documents a lot (in form of notes, sketches and whatever comes up) and this is a key part of her work. She often goes back to this and uses it also as part of her work! It is very important to figure out god ways to do documentation. Pedro had very fruitful experiences with researching about the history of certain ideas/theories. Richard tells an anecdote from his work, where research processes were not documented and its contests lost to the pity of a later generation. In the field of heartpumps, many ideas have been proposed during the 90ies for optimization, but the were technically impossible and regarded as never possible. However, technology has so much improved in the last decades that probably many ideas today would be realizable. People only remember that there were these ideas, but the details are lost. The lesson to learn here is that what one might consider as unimportant at a certain moment, could be very useful later and we cannot anticipate this knowledge. Richard adds that the best results are achieved in an 'unbounded' environment. Pedro argues that on the other hand science is foundationally constrained. Guilherme mentions “Originals” book by Adam Grant and a new-darwinist viewpoint on research processes. Berna says any documentation should put human into focus, not an idealized view on science. Robin says we should get away from our genius-obsession. Maria says it would be interesting to record influences and have a collective story. Florian says the process is of course important but generally not appreciated. Berna tells that Leo is documenting a lot of his “processes”, at the moment a project his project of sewing the clothes of one year all by himself (see also here). There is a prominence on focusing on the process in management. Flavio tells that old papers sometimes do include personal stories and mentions the private contacts that have contributed and how. Also in experimental physics a lab book is mandatory. Maria says that sometimes weekly reports are requested that also serve as a means of control. “Stories” would be a good introduction for papers, since mostly this is done poorly. Florian says that also feelings are an important part in the process (later Markus asks, what about Emojis in papers). Flavio asks how this focus on the process should help, where Florian answers with a hint towards communication and language problems between fields, there is the idea of a “translation paper” between fields (this is in conjunction with Richard's music example, see below).

The last part of the session focused on “how to improve dealing with processes and when could that be useful.”

We agree that process are almost not reflected in scientific output like papers (and from the conference on history of science we learned that processes in the sense of history often is told wrongly in books)

Florian argues that if scientific truth depends on the approach to describe it, the process to arrive there becomes automatically more important. Richard: “Something similar happens in classical music. Forte means something completely different for Bach and for Beethoven. Among good pianist, there is no question about this. Thus, what does Forte mean? Behind that, there is a process in the development of classical music of course. And dealing with this process is very helpful in understanding what Bach or Beethoven meant!” Richard highlights the purpose of “études” as study parts in music.

Robin mentions the potential of arxiv to upload unconventional forms of research outputs. Es example he names a paper of C. Rovelli, where he published two “opposing truth” of string theorists and conservationists approaches to quantum gravity in terms of a fictive dialogue. Generally, the “translation” between different fields of physics become topic (story from Florian about his own research, where his group is between the field of quantum chemistry and quantum optics and translation is one of the major obstacles. He argues that if others would have written down their process of understanding the point of view of the respective other field - by for example publishing the peer review - this would have helped a lot!) Berna says that making the personal process available could help people in understanding, Markus gives the simple example of a longer version of a paper that he has on arxiv with some extra explanations and examples. Maria adds the example of lecture notes on arxiv.

Chris Fucks was mentioned, who publishes complete mail conversations in arxiv, which is a form of documentation of his research process. The process as a clash of opinions can be seen there. Also the peer-review process should be made public in the same spirit (it is for a number of high-impact journals)

Markus tells a story about his research process with a colleague that always has a different opinion than Markus, but still they work together and publish together. Here it is very interesting to see how scientific knowledge is created by the process between two scientist (with strong opposing opinions).

There are many contributions highlighting that dealing with his or her own process can be very important for self reflection.

Preparation Material of the Organizers

Inspirational text by Markus

From here is preparation material by Florian.

Why at all talking about process?

Counter Argument:

One might argue that we as scientist know how to do (our) science. Of course, we will go on learning about it, but the fundament that we build remains. Thus, this should be largely independent of the environment (e.g. Academia) in which we do it. Of course, in Academia the research goals might be often given by some funding agencies that are controlled by politicians that want to have results that make the corresponding country or region richer at a certain point. Thus, outside academia one might be able to follow different goals (though there will be always the question of funding: without an acknowledged institute, it is very difficult to apply for funding and the funding agencies would be the same as inside academia, so what's the difference?). Still the way how to do science or the process of research will always be the same.

This could be true and is a valid outcome of this meeting. ;)


We believe that there are huge chances in rethinking the process of science!
  • Inside Academia, the process is typically treated as almost irrelevant, instead only the result / output counts (e.g. “our” publication fetish).
    Thus, the machinery of academia pushes us away from the process. Of course, there must be processes behind the outputs, so how is it possible that processes are considered as irrelevant?
    • In academia, we normally do not think/talk about HOW CREATION HAPPENS.
      We learn from our supervisor how they face their problems and if we are lucky enough to have more than one supervisor we will typically have two completely different kinds of strategies. Some are better, some are worse, normally none is really refined. Most of us write some kind of diary or log, but without any real clue what to put there. Often just to have something solid after a working day, because it is often really hard to measure how much or even if we advance or not during the research process. But we never think or discuss about this. It is treated as something god-given. But maybe we could enhance our process! But what means enhancement? Etc. pp
    • output orientation also induces reduced COOPERATION, because only cooperation that very promisingly leads to scientific output can be “afforded”
      (most efficient form of cooperation in this setting are based on hierarchies goup leader → senior scientist → student)
  • Interestingly, most of the scientists criticize this strongly. Still, they seem IMPOTENT to change what they criticize.
    Non-academic science could offer the freedom to focus more on the process

What is process?

(since our audience is a mix of artists an scientists, I guess, we need to start the discussion about the connection between arts and science very early, I still put it as an extra point)

  • What belongs to the process?
    (formulas?, derivations?, plots?, failures?, feelings?, the body state?, depends on the goal that drives the process? depne)
  • How do we we perceive process?
    (also in contrast to progress: if I spent one week with deriving equations and find out later that I had a wrong starting point and thus, all derivations are wrong, did I proceed with anything? I terms of classical scientific output, for sure not! But I still went a process and maybe learned a lot during this process!)
  • Can process separate from the idea that drove it before or the goal that originally wanted to be achieved?

Process in arts and science

  • Can we compare arts and science?


I do not see any difference here:
* Science: have an idea, build a cool device, hope that it works (that's called empirical evidence then)
* Art: have an idea, build a cool artwork (could be a machine too after all), hope that it works (that it has the planned effect)
The freedom in science is exactly the same too: you can try to achieve anything


Well, I think the analogy works this well for applied science/research, either theoretical or experimental. My point is that for basic research things are rather different: you simply don't have an idea out of the blue, but must piece together a set of principles, the whole process being heavily constrained by known facts. Unlike this, the artist does have full freedom in her choice. Moreover, the success of the final product depends a lot on the target audience, whereas the scientific output only depends on empirical confirmation.
  • Another argument: there is not much experience in classical science in “dealing” with the process. But maybe we can search in other fields: ARTS,
    (History of Science also very promising as some of the antendees have seen the last two days)

Example: The scientific diary

(this part did not enter the discussion in the end)

SHORT PRESENTATION: An example of “interacting” with a research process

  • I told a story inspried from my process and based on my notes from the time and my memory.
  • The specific events that I chose to mention are only a selection. Some events were not triggered externally, but still they influenced the process.
  • Form the “same” input, many story can be told.
  • The story is not the process of course, but it is a way to deal with it.
  • Does it make sense to deal with a process at all?
    • I had for sure fun in doing it.
    • Some things became clearer by putting them in a different perspective.
    • It triggered actually new ideas.
    • I learned also something about the process itself, but it is difficult to spell it. But one important point is that during the process, I never perceived it in the way as I put it now!

Questions for the round:

  • What are your first impressions from what I presented?
  • Can something like this “diary” also be relevant/interesting/useful/worth experiencing for other people?
    This question is probably very similar to what an artist must ask himself, when she or he produces something!
  • This was just a kind of teaser. The space of interaction with the process is entirely unexplored. What possibilities are there?
  • What about aesthetics? Does this play a role in science?
    “The center of scientific beauty” :D
  • Input Willi: Process visualization (was very important for him during his research about minimization)
    Could arts help him here?

Sol LeWitt

In conceptual art, the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means tall all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctionary affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.

examples for process documentation

potsdam2019/session_1_-_processes_in_research.txt · Last modified: 2019/12/09 18:55 by admin

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