problems with academia

Vox Article – Fleming’s discovery of penicillin couldn’t get published today. That’s a huge problem.

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Great article by Julia Belluz on the age of big data and whether  “small science” should be published. Excerpt below:

“Over in Switzerland, Alzheimer’s researcher Lawrence Rajendran has been asking himself a similar question: Should science be smaller again? Rajendran, who heads a laboratory at the University of Zurich, recently founded a journal called Matters.* Set to launch in early 2016, the journal aims to publish “the true unit of science” — the observation.

Rajendran notes that Alexander Fleming’s simple observation that penicillin mold seemed to kill off bacteria in his petri dish could never be published today, even though it led to the discovery of lifesaving antibiotics. That’s because today’s journals want lots of data and positive results that fit into an overarching narrative (what Rajendran calls “storytelling”) before they’ll publish a given study.

“You would have to solve the structure of penicillin or find the mechanism of action,” he added.

But research is complex, and scientific findings may not fit into a neat story — at least not right away. So Rajendran and the staff at Matters hope scientists will be able to share insights in this journal that they may not been able to publish otherwise. He also thinks that if researchers have a place to explore preliminary observations, they may not feel as much pressure to exaggerate their findings in order to add all-important publications to their CVs.”

* The new journal is open access and also allows you to publish subsequent observations!





“Prof, no one is reading you” by Asit K. Biswas And Julian Kirchherr, April 11

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Excellent article from the Straits Times on how academics need to step out and communicate their work with the rest of the world, not just publish in well-ranked journals. Part of the problem is that science communication with the public does not contribute much to tenureship guidelines at most universities:

MANY of the world’s most talented thinkers may be university professors, but sadly most of them are not shaping today’s public debates or influencing policies.

Indeed, scholars often frown upon publishing in the popular media. “Running an opinion editorial to share my views with the public? Sounds like activism to me,” a professor recently noted at a conference, hosted by the University of Oxford.

The absence of professors from shaping public debates and policies seems to have exacerbated in recent years, particularly in social sciences.

In the 1930s and 1940s, 20 per cent of articles in the prestigious The American Political Science Review focused on policy recommendations. At the last count, the share was down to a meagre 0.3 per cent.

Even debates among scholars do not seem to function properly. Up to 1.5 million peer-reviewed articles are published annually. However, many are ignored even within scientific communities – 82 per cent of articles published in humanities are not even cited once. No one ever refers to 32 per cent of the peer-reviewed articles in the social and 27 per cent in the natural sciences.

If a paper is cited, this does not imply it has actually been read. According to one estimate, only 20 per cent of papers cited have actually been read. We estimate that an average paper in a peer-reviewed journal is read completely by no more than 10 people. Hence, impacts of most peer-reviewed publications even within the scientific community are minuscule.

Many scholars aspire to contribute to their discipline’s knowledge and to influence practitioners’ decision-making.

However, practitioners very rarely read articles published in peer-reviewed journals. We know of no senior policymaker or senior business leader who ever read regularly any peer-reviewed papers in well-recognised journals like Nature, Science or Lancet.

– Read the rest of the article at: