Jan 18, 2014

The "Kulturamt der Stadt Wien" Responds

Hubert Christian Ehalt, head of the science department of the City of Vienna's Department of Culture, has belatedly responded to my enquiry regarding a research grant that was given by this institution in 2004 to the "Mozartgemeinde Wien" and resulted in a project report titled "W. A. Mozart und sein Wiener Umfeld". Since this report, which was written by a totally incompetent student and published in this society's journal Wiener Figaro, turned out to be so ludicrously worthless that the whole project basically amounted to blatant fraud, I had suggested that the Mozartgemeinde should pay back the grant money. After more than three months of silence, Professor Ehalt only responded after I had mentioned the idea of passing on this particular story to the print media. Not surprisingly, Ehalt was completely unwilling to acknowledge any negligence or wrongdoing by the Department of Culture and retreated to the well-known defense line of "followed formalities" concerning the waste of 4000 Euros of taxpayers' money. Ehalt's response provides a glimpse on the amount of verbal cotton wool in which a Viennese City official will wrap any citizen who might point out a possible abuse of public funding. Ehalt's reputation for being able to reel off meaningless impromptu speeches on any possible topic is legendary. Please note that certain passages in the following text were not made up by yours truly, but are a literal translation of Ehalt's statement.
The City of Vienna's Department of Culture has funded the Mozartgemeinde in 2004 with a grant of 4000 Euros and the Böhlau publishing house with a contribution of 800 Euros to the printing costs for Tadeusz Krzeszowiak's book Freihaustheater in Wien, 1787-1801. The Mozartgemeinde is a reputed study group, whose members include a number of professors. The results of the Vienna Mozart Society's research project concerning "Mozart's Viennese Circle", which had been conducted by Ms. Madlene Feyrer, were published in 2008 in a special issue of the society's journal Wiener Figaro. Both projects were completed, properly accounted for and passed on via publication to the scientific community to carry out its task (the integration into the body of research [Integration in das Forschungsgebäude].
The funding of research and the integration of the results into the body of research via publication is[sic!] done according to internationally valid rules. Your serious and unacceptable accusations against the Department of Culture regarding two projects supported by this department were brought foward in ignorance of the institutional rules and practices of research funding and the underlying democratic political objectives. Allow me to explain these objectives, hence you can see in which areas, how and to what purpose and for which kind of research the funding institutions are responsible.
Funding agencies check the incoming grant applications according to a transparent set of rules. About 2000 projects are being funded by Viennese research institutions every year. The reviews of the projects, based on the submitted documents, must comply with the substantive and formal requirements of the respective funding institution. After the funding decisions have been made, contracts are made with the participants of the projects. The appropriate use of grant money and the submission of work reports according to the grant agreement is[sic!] reviewed by the funding institution. Thereby the funding agenda – whether is is supported by stipends, project grants, subsidies by funds and foundations of the City of Vienna, contributions to printing costs, etc. – is fulfilled.
The reviewing process of the scientific "impacts" however, is done by the scientific community which has developed appropriate tools. This review is performed in an unlimited space of time, because research is an alive and continous process as well. In the natural sciences, the measurement of scientific quality is quantified by the "impact factor". This factor indicates how (qualitatively and quantitatively) research is perceived by the scientific community and which "impact" results from a research paper for the research in a particular field. The currently most important parameter to measure the scientific impacts is the "h-Index/Hirschfaktor". In the humanities and the social sciences the importance and value of scientific monographs still dominate, whose importance for research is determined by the frequency of citation and reviews in top journals.
At this point it has become obvious that Ehalt thinks of me as a complete layman (not to say idiot). Every expert, active in the field, knows that the activity of the Mozartgemeinde Wien is of absolutely no scholarly relevance and that its existence, or the existence of its obscure journal is not acknowledged outside Vienna (i.e. outside the society). There is a golden rule, as far as empty musings on today's academic activities are concerned: at all cost refer to Karl Popper (even at the risk of making him turn in his grave), and, if possible, also throw a pinch of Thomas Kuhn into the hodgepodge. Here we go:
The scientific evaluation is the responsibility of the scientific community which is obliged to collegiality. Collegiality refers to the obligation to evaluate scholarly results in Popper's sense (the critical appreciation is important; K. R. Popper has pointed out the importance of falsification) to appreciate, to review, reject, develop. The scientific evaluation of research by the scientific community is usually a process that is structured according to the thesis of T. S. Kuhn through paradigm shift. I am not an expert of Mozart research, but it seems to me that the image of Mozart and Mozart research of the last 222 years was marked by a series of paradigm shifts.
Ehalt is obviously referring to the paradigm shift that marks the steep decline from the serious work done in Vienna by the likes of Dr. Ludwig von Köchel to the fraudulent pseudo-Mozart-research that is being funded nowadays by the City of Vienna.
But back to the evaluation tasks: this evaluation of the research results is not / can not / should not be the task of the institutions that fund the research. This corresponds to the state of the art of current research funding. Prof. Dr. Manfred Wagner, who for many years has conducted the assessment of projects of the Austrian Science Fund in cultural sciences and humanities, describes this objective as follows: "The biggest research funding institutions (such as the Austrian Science Fund) and best funding terms and conditions cannot guarantee a result. It is the goal of research to explore unknown terrain and to tell what was found there. Therefore there is no assessment or review of results, but only an evaluation of the formal processes."
Ehalt is unable (or rather unwilling) to understand that his elaborate lecture is entirely beside the point. What the City of Vienna got for its money from the Mozartgemeinde was not actual Mozart research, or the "exploration of new terrain and information on what was found there". The grant simply resulted in a worthless paper, rife with ridiculous nonsense, which amounted to a shameless documentation of what you get, when you naively trust a student who dishonestly claims to be able to decipher early nineteenth-century handwritten documents.
The approach that you suggest would be counterproductive in terms of all applied evaluation criteria. Imagine for a moment that every review of a publication would jeopardize the funding granted to publish the document in question – Reviews, as you know, sometimes only arrive years after the publication, which is also applies for the particular publication that you criticized. According to your logic, every new review would demand a revision of the funding of projects and their publication. This makes sense in the legal system, where a lawsuit and the resulting verdict in a court of appeal leads to the presentation of new facts that are newly evaluated. In the field of science this would be, and is, as is easy to understand, counterproductive. An excellent research discussion – in a best case scenario – would be replaced by a dispute between legal representatives to justify or question the funding that lead to research results. What is important is the discussion about the research results, not the discussion about further research and the legitimacy of funding in the scientific community.
To sum it up, funding of science should (in the opinion of leaders in research funding) mainly support the scientific work proper. The necessary administrative effort should be kept as small as possible. There is a division of labor regarding the optimum earmarking of research funding: the evaluation of formal procedures lies with the funding institutions, the scientific evaluation with the scientific community.

Sincerely yours, [...]
There is really not much to be said, and thus, a few points will suffice.
  • The funding money provided by the City of Vienna's Department of Culture is just there for the taking, because the actual results of the funded projects will never be subjected to a vetting process. The City of Vienna is actually willing to throw money out of the proverbial window.
  • All you need to apply for a grant are good connections and a society that you need to establish first. As a matter of fact, the first advice you will get from Ehalt, when you ask for grant money, is that you must establish a society, because only societies are entitled to receive funding. This deeply flawed legal situation has lead to the creation of countless pseudo/micro societies.
  • The published results and the "impacts" of a funded project will (according to Ehalt) be "evaluated by the scientific community". This rule, however, does not apply, if this "impact" leads to a detailed  and devastating review by Dr. Lorenz. In such a case any possible criticism from a respected member of the scientific community will be denounced as "unacceptable accusations".
  • The results of the project "W. A. Mozart und sein Wiener Umfeld", which was funded with 4000 Euros by the City of Vienna, were not "passed on via publication to the scientific community". As a matter of fact (because the journal of the Mozartgemeinde is only read by members of this society), the scientific community learned about this embarrassing project only through my scathing review. In this regard Ehalt is right: Ms. Feyrer's h-index will never decline in the future. The project report in question was never read by any party involved (certainly not by Ehalt and the society's president Dr. Kretschmer) and quickly put away into a drawer in the office of the Magistratsabteilung 7. For obvious reasons, no copy of Ms. Feyrer's paper was forwarded to the Municipal and Provincial Archives of Vienna, which is a violation of these archives' user regulations.
  • Professor Ehalt's lengthy lecture is a curio that really cannot be taken serious. I never requested that "every new review should demand a revision of the funding of projects and their publication." I only suggested that the result of the project in question should lead to a revision and a payback of the grant money. "Bad research" or "flawed scholarship" are not the issues at hand. The issue in this case is plain fraud, and if the Department of Culture is unwilling to vet the quality of the actual goods it buys with taxpayers' money, it is running the risk of becoming an accomplice and negligent enabler of criminal behavior.
Let me conclude this sad topic with a translation of the final paragraph of my review of Ms. Feyrer's dreadful concoction:
The result of the project "W. A. Mozart's Viennese Circle", initiated by Dr. Helmut Kretschmer on behalf of the Mozartgemeinde Wien, is scholarly worthless, and the society would be well advised to pay back the grant money it received. The concept of the whole enterprise was reasoned out insufficiently and marred by dilettantism, as far as the selection of persons "from Mozart's circle" is concerned. Of course, the main responsibility lies with Dr. Kretschmer who obviously did not even proofread the text of his collaborator before publishing it. But Ms. Feyrer cannot be let off the hook either, because she must have realized that she could not read the documents that she was supposed "to summarize". She should have turned to Dr. Kretschmer for help. Instead she remained silent and decided to take the fee and deeply embarrass the Mozartgemeinde Wien. Viennese Mozart research suffers great damage from these events, because public funding was taken away from serious research. Of course, this disastrous "research project" is only a symptom of a fundamental grievance in historical musicology in Vienna whose effects prove particularly harmful to Mozart research. Biographical research based on archival sources concerning the main representatives of Viennese classicism, is not being taught in Vienna, and therefore it is not being conducted there. Students of musicology at the University of Vienna do not learn how to find biographical sources, how to read two hundred years old probate records (and similar documents) and how to put them into a meaningful historical context. Of course, there are always dissertations that prove to be exceptions to the rule, but the University of Vienna is still the institution, where one can write a dissertation about the Vienna "Tonkünstler-Sozietät" without being able to actually read the records of this society. Where one only needs to have read two books on Schubert to get a PhD with a dissertation titled Neue Interpretationsmöglichkeiten zur Vita und zum Werk Franz Schubert's[sic!]. Where in a dissertation on Joseph Lanner one can refer to non-existent sources, because one can be sure that no one will go to the archives to look for them. Since there is no training for the study of manuscripts from Mozart's time in Vienna  I have never met a local professor of musicology with his students in Vienna's archives and because in almost touching naivety "everything" is considered "to have been already researched", a huge amount of important documents from Mozart's time remains unknown. Instead, great efforts are being made to study the posthumous reception of Mozart's music, because printed reviews are simply easier to read. The most important collections of sources, O. E. Deutsch's editions of Mozart and Schubert documents, no longer meet the current scientific requirements and are in urgent need of an extension and a completely new edition. As I mentioned in my response to Walburga Litschauer two years ago, this elaborate work can only be done where the most important archival sources concerning Mozart and Schubert are located: in Vienna's archives. No efforts in this regard are noticeable however. The scholarly institutions prefer to get sidetracked on fringe areas, to hold "standard works" as flawless, to do "research" from Salzburg via fax and to fund research projects of the sort presented above. One thing all the involved experts do have in common: an irrepressible fear of entering a Viennese archive, to learn the hard work of archival research from scratch and to devote years into the exploration of the unknown, whose success is rarely guaranteed. Let us never forget: Austria is the land of classical music. But it is also the land where a pseudo historian, who in one of his books claims that Mozart in 1791 was arrested by the Baden police, was awarded the Cross of Honour for Science and Art, First Class.

© Dr. Michael Lorenz 2014. All rights reserved.

Updated: 18 March 2021