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Dysfunction In Modern Science? 155

Posted by timothy
from the could-be-worse-could-be-social-text dept.
eldavojohn writes "The editors of Infection and Immunity are sending a warning signal about modern science. Two editorials (1 and 2) published in the journal have given other biomedical researchers pause to ask if modern science is dysfunctional. Readers familiar with the state of academia may not be surprised but the claims have been presented today to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that level the following allegations: 'Incentives have evolved over the decades to encourage some behaviors that are detrimental to good science' and 'The surest ticket to getting a grant or job is getting published in a high profile journal, this is an unhealthy belief that can lead a scientist to engage in sensationalism and sometimes even dishonest behavior to salvage their career.' The data to back up such slanderous claims? 'In the past decade the number of retraction notices for scientific journals has increased more than 10-fold while the number of journals articles published has only increased by 44%.' At least a few of such retractions have been covered here."
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Dysfunction In Modern Science?

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  • by Pausanias (681077) <{pausaniasx} {at} {gmail.com}> on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @01:07PM (#39486347)

    You are either bitter, or were stuck in a bad department. While such sensationalist people certainly exist, few of them actually influence the broader debate. In my community such people are far outnumbered by brilliant and truly insightful researchers who work incredibly hard and whose contributions to our understanding of the universe are vastly undervalued by their pay. To think that some of the most brilliant minds in the world, working at the frontiers of science simply because they love it, are paid no more than a senior code monkeys, is the real travesty.

  • by 0123456 (636235) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @01:09PM (#39486371)

    Read the part after the one everyone always quotes about the 'military-industrial complex'.

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @01:15PM (#39486497) Homepage

    A lot of the issues discussed here are only relevant in the life sciences, and especially in medicine. Retractions are not a big phenomenon in the physical sciences. Ditto for publication bias (refusal by journals to publish negative results or failed attempts to replicate published results). This is essentially just because the life sciences are harder than the physical sciences. The life sciences have much more intractable problems with complexity of systems and difficulty in controlling variables.

    Some of the problems they discuss are clearly insoluble. The uncertain career prospects for young scientists are a straightforward matter of supply and demand. There are many, many very talented people who would like to spend their careers doing fundamental scientific research. The number of such people is 1 or 2 orders of magnitude greater than the number of jobs available. This isn't a new phenomenon, although in the past the problem may have been hidden more, because, e.g., up until about 1950, only white, affluent, European and American males were considered prospects for a career in science.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @01:28PM (#39486751)

    How about we apply the Kickstarter model that is improving the gaming industry to Biomed research, all we need is a platform that connects people with various ailments to the researchers interested in developing treatments and doing basic science related to those particular illnesses.

    There can be some mandatory requirements like not being able to patent the results ( or being able to patent shorter periods of time) of the research and making sure that it's published i in an open access journal like PlosONE. This way we eliminate the incentive for the researchers to gain advantages with unfair techniques and also encourage new talent to join the industry.

    I'm sure there's lots of researchers with great leads and ideas that just don't get enough funding from the pharma companies because they won't bring revenues in the short term, this is especially true for drugs with patents that are expired but might have different new applications and treatments that use materials which are not patentable.
    There's lots of similarities with the gaming industry if you draw analogies between big pharma and publishers, maybe the solution is the same, cut the middleman.

  • by Arrepiadd (688829) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @01:38PM (#39486961)

    My view of it is that there aren't that many basic concepts to discover in the back of your garage. Particle accelerators, high-field NMR machines, electron or AFM microscopes, huge ground-based or orbital telescopes are needed to make the next discoveries in their respective fields because the easy stuff, that could be seen with bubble chambers, low-field magnets, optical microscopes and small telescopes was already discovered. It's a matter of diminishing returns.
    Scientists have been doing their jobs for hundreds of years, no one is going to discover an improved version of the laws of gravitation with a 100 dollar telescope. What may come out of observing dark matter was obtained with multi-million dollar equipment, collaborative effort and brilliant minds going over and over the same thing.

    Granted, there may be things to discover that can still be attained in a garage. In hindsight everything is easy, but if no one is looking, there may still be amazing things still to observe in your kitchen lab. But expecting the cure for problems of the world to come out of a bunch of semi-amateur scientists is betting on the wrong horse... it may happen in a field or two, but it won't be the future of science.

  • by radtea (464814) on Tuesday March 27, 2012 @03:10PM (#39488317)

    Consequently, science does not lead iteratively toward truth -- a popular misunderstanding.

    It isn't clear why this is considered a "popular" misunderstanding when smug ignoramuses have been responding to it with nonsense like yours for decades. Idiots saying, "Science is about building models..." are at least ten times more common than idiots saying, "Science is about truth..."

    Science is Bayesian. If you understand that you can drop all your nonsense about "models" and similar pseudo-Cartesian gibberish. If you don't understand that you aren't talking about science, but some imaginary philosophical construct that's completely irrelevant to any discussion of science.

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