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More on why reams of bad science gets published, despite good intentions


File:A small cup of coffee.JPG And endless huffery and puffery. Background from Retraction Watch’s Ivan Oransky in a  Forbes article by Bill Frezza:

The academic pecking order is based on the number of papers a scientist gets published in high impact factor journals, that is, journals whose papers are heavily cited by other scientists. And yet, “The vast majority of scientific publications are never cited. There are something like 30,000 [published papers] a week.” How many of those can be first rate? How much second- and third-rate science is being funded? And how can we know?

The surge of publications is a direct result of the tsunami of money that washed over the industry between 1998 and 2003 with the doubling of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget. “It was a gold rush,” says Oransky. “What scientists did was grow their labs so they can produce more papers so they can get more grants.”

But, like a real gold rush, the bonanza couldn’t go on forever. So, asks Oransky, “What happens to all those folks when the doubling stops?” NIH funding has currently leveled out at between $30 billon and $40 billion a year, depending on how you count it. In an era of stagnant budgets, competition for limited funding has become cutthroat. That has led some scientists to take shortcuts. And that, in turn, has caused retractions to soar. More.

Frezza also cites unrealistic suspicion of and policing of the private sector:

Stossel characterizes this rationale as, “If I am paid by a corporation to do research, I am going to lie, cheat and steal.” Based on his experience at Biogen, he calls this a “total inversion of reality.” He notes that, “95 percent of the scientific papers retracted for falsification, fabrication, or plagiarism have no commercial connection.” And yet, conflict of interest rules continue to proliferate, choking off what could be a critical alternative to taxpayer funding.

Perhaps the reality is that the markeptplace offers far more risks than tenure does. People may do things for tenure that they would not do if they realized that their results would have to compete in a real marketplace where outcomes matter. Or, as Tom Stossel puts it, “I realized how fundamentally honest business people are compared to my academic colleagues, who’d run their grandmothers over for recognition.”

See also:

No, this time failure to believe Darwinian fairy tales isn’t the claimed cause of decline.


Senior scientist on the real threat to the scientific method

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