September 6th, 2015
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Throughout the years, I have been discovering more and more of the inner workings of academia and how modern scientific research is done and I have acquired a certain degree of discouragement in face of what appears to be an abandonment by my research community of the search for knowledge. I found scientists to be more preoccupied by their own survival in a very competitive research environment than by the development of a true understanding of the world.
By creating a highly-competitive environment that relies on the selection of researchers based on their “scientific productivity,” as it is referred to, we have populated the scientific community with what I like to call “chickens with no head,” that is, researchers who can produce multiple scientific articles per year, none of which having any significant impact on our understanding of the world. Because of this, science is moving forward similarly to how a headless chicken walks, with no perceivable goal. This issue reveals itself in a series of noxious conditions that are affecting me and my colleagues: a high number of scientific articles with fraudulent data, due to the pressures of the “publish or perish” system, makes it impossible to know if a recent discovery is true or not; a large portion of the time of a scientist is spent just writing grants so that they can be submitted to 5-10 agencies in the hope that one of them will accept; and our scientific publication system has become so corrupted that it is almost impossible to get a scientific article published without talking one-on-one with the editor before submitting the article.
Some of my best friends at Duke have told me that I sounded “bitter” when I expressed these concerns. I insure you that I am not and that I am writing these lines with the nonchalance and bliss of a man who has found other ways to be happy and to satisfy his own scientific curiosity, ways that do not involve the costly war of attrition for state money that modern scientists are condemned to engage in. My friends have also pointed out that I should not be “discouraged” by the difficulties faced as a scientist, that I should continue to “fight.” Again, they are wrong; discouragements due to failures have never kept me down. I have never been afraid of failures and of retrying, and retrying again; my scientific successes are what discouraged me, because I know how they were obtained.
My most important scientific articles were accepted in major journals because the editors had a favorable prejudice toward me or my co-authors; because I was insuring that I had a discussion with them before I submitted; or because the reviewers they chose happened to be close colleagues. The scientific publication system portrays itself as a strict system for the evaluation of the importance of individual scientific contributions to knowledge, but anyone who has participated to this system and became good at it knows that the true factors that influence the publication of a scientific work have to do with social networking and, in many cases, straight-out corruption. It is not surprising that such corrupt systems develop when the publishing of just one article in a major journal means that a researcher can claim his share of a multi-billion dollar flow of money coming from the government and private foundations for future work.