Sunday, 3 October 2010

Evolving 'Scientists' into 'Science-twists'?

First of all, it is worth defining the First of all, it is worth defining the terms 'scientist' and science-twist' in the context of this article. The dictionary definition of the scientist is 'the person with an advance knowledge of one or more sciences'. Here, the term 'science-twist' is defined as 'the person with an advance knowledge of various science disciplines without (or with) an intention of compromising the quality of the results for achieving desired outcomes'.

The objectives of this article is to look at the current research practices in the light of both the above defined terms, and to discuss the topic 'whether today's scientists are turning into science-twists?'.

As discussed in the article below, pecuiliar combination of output oriented workload on the academics and contention for publishing large number of articles to prove their scientific productivty is a normal part of today's academic life. This also lead sometimes in research frauds by twisting the research data. This may not be completely true in cases when scientists working in research Institutes are only assigned research work though they may have their own concerns in terms of attracting funding for carrying out their research. However, this is nearly true in today's very competitive academic environment where a huge work load, in terms of administrative, management and teaching activities, are implicitly part of the job and large expectations for bringing in research projects and publishing in top ranked journals are generally kept from the academics. A recent article by Fanelli (2010) looked into this matter and concluded based on the the USA data that competitive academic environments increase not only scientists' productivity but also their bias; the same phenomenon might be observed in other countries where academic competition and pressures to publish are high.

A study by Bjork et al. (2006) reported that there were about 27,750 peer-reviewed scientific journals worldwide in 2006 that published over 1,35,000 articles. This figure has grown substantially over the last recent years. This is just an indication about the extent to which research is being published. The good aspect of this is an excellent dissimination of the research to the scientific community worldwide which is far bettter than the old days. However, the negative aspect is many of these articles may not even meet required basic standards and just be giving surfacial scientific information. Moreover, the new trend has emerged in publishing research articles, which is publishing research results into small pieces to increase the quantity of the articles published by an individual. However, one of the reasons for this is also the word limits imposed by the journal. Unlike most of today's research articles, old articles may be a bit longer with a detailed methodology which allows the users to reproduce the results or the data presented in them.

Another trend which have emerged in recent years is a unsatisfying hunger of research grants in academics. A general perception is that more the research fundings one have (no matter in what research area!), better he/she is having a chance for academic growth. A number of academics spend nearly most of their available time in writing grants and managing the already going on research projects. In another words, many of us are turning into 'research managers' rather than the 'research scientists' because of rarely doing research ourselves; this has given birth to a inverse-learning trend i.e. 'learing through sub-ordinate research staff rather than the other way around'. In fact, self-research is also not practically possible given the commitments to various activities (other than core research) that can probably end up in compromising the quality of research output.

There is a constant pressure on today's scientists to get positive publishable results and win research fundings. The current situation is not like it used to be years ago when scientists had ample of time and flexibility for publishing selective high quality research on their own will. To survive in highly competitive academic environment and to achieve given (or self set out) research targets, there is a less margin of error in today's academic environment for an individual to get negative unpublishible results which may also increase the chances of derialing from the original path and in turn affecting the quality of the research output.

There is no mantra to avoid this situtation. However, self periodic re-evaluation for maintaining a good balance between the quality and the quanitity of research, and choosing the best of the available options could help up to avoid the situations described above up to some extent.

Regards,
Prashant

Note: The thoughts presented in this article are solely of the author and do not represent any organisation, group or any other individual.

4 comments:

  1. An issue raised this blog is how to maintain standard of academic papers in the face of competition to write more (by researchers) and to publish more papers (by journal publishers).

    To a certain extent, I think the impact of this issue can be lessen if we, as academics, adopt a strict code of conduct:
    (1) ensure that we do our part in reviewing papers, be active, vigorous and strict. Try to maintain high standards in our reviews knowing that this would benefit the whole community. There were several occasions where I had the opportunity to review several papers (from different journals) by the same authors, and I was in a position to tell the authors that they should merge these papers.

    (2) pay kudos to colleagues who publish at a reasonable rate, instead of excessive rate. Personally, I think it is impossible for a researcher to publish 12 papers or more in one year and claim significant authorship in all these papers.

    (3) Back to basics - the reason for publication is dissemination and information sharing. If the information contained within a paper is insufficient, or the finding is insignificant, is it worth sharing?

    (4) .... tbc

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  2. The objectives of this article is to look at the current research practices in the light of both the above defined terms, and to discuss the topic 'whether today's scientists are turning into science-twists?'.It is really good to read.

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