Too Many Scientists

From Slashdot – Many Scientists Admit Unethical Practices

there are too many scientists! (Score:5, Interesting)
by myc (105406) on Friday June 10, @03:14PM (#12782786)
(Last Journal: Friday February 11, @05:21PM)

The reason I think this stuff happens is that the “publish or perish” pressure is just too insane at top universities. It’s not just publishing in any archival journal; to maintain funding, to get tenured, high quality publications in high profile journals are a must. I can’t speak for other fields, but in the biological sciences, not only is the pressure to publish in quality AND quantity getting greater each year, the field has exploded to such a degree that the burden of proof for one’s hypotheses is increasingly heavier. Exploratory studies cannot be carried out; the emphasis is almost entirely on what can be completed and published in a reasonably short period of time. Experiments are hard to do. If a grant deadline/tenure review is coming up and the data is not quite what it needs to be, people might be tempted to fudge it a tiny bit.

None of what I just said excuses scientific misconduct. But I think why it happens is just a symptom of a bigger problem (at least in biology). There are too many Ph.D. level scientists! The incessant cranking out of these highly educated people is creating an oversupply of researchers. Every Ph.D. who gets a tenure-track research position (these positions are highly competitive; typically 50-100 highly qualified individuals who have equally impressive CVs compete for one spot) has to stake out their little project and protect it like a lioness protects her cubs. If they’re not careful and blink the wrong way, they could be scooped by competitors (i.e. beaten to publication); a good chunk of their career just went down the drain. This after a completely unreasonable length of postgraduate training (6-7 years for a Ph.D. and 4-5 years postdoctoral training after that is quite typical), poor pay and lousy hours. All because IMO there are too many people working on the same shit.

I think that to fix the problem, something fundamental needs to change in the way scientists are produced. I don’t pretend to know what the best solution would be, but one idea I’ve been throwing around is to train more M.S. level people than Ph.D. level people. These would be employed as staff scientists rather than independent principal investigators, such that there would be enough of a labor pool to actually do the work, but without having one’s career constantly in jeopardy.

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