Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Decline of science?

The most exciting period in science was, arguably, 1895-1945. It was marked by discoveries that changed the foundations of modern science: X-rays, quantum mechanics, superconductivity, relativity theory and nuclear energy. Then, compare this with the next 50 years in science. Incomparable. Nothing of that scale or impact. Yes, technology has advanced, but fundamental science – has come to a crawl. Have you ever wondered why? What changed as the 20th century grew older? Among other things, research budgets and the number of PhDs increased exponentially. This cannot be bad.

Well, it can. All depends on the rules of the game. And they have changed. The change went largely unnoticed by the general public. In this article I will try to bring everyone up to speed. I will explain to non-scientists the "business model" of modern science. People may want to know. After all, scientists are burning public money, billions a year. And, I am quite sure, those who get my message will react with "you cannot be serious!" And leaders of organized crime will be pulling their hair out in despair: "why did not we think of this first?"

Single most important element of the modern science machinery is the peer review process. It was introduced a long time ago, but it took over the scientific community at about mid 20th century. Why is it important? Every scientist must publish his or her work. If you do not publish, you will not advance your career. This works the same way as it does, say, for a businessman – if you cannot close a single deal, you are finished. Most journals have adopted peer review policies. Peer review process is also standard for research grants competitions. It is also the foundation of the tenure and promotion process at universities.

Well then, what is it exactly? To save time, let me explain peer review of papers submitted for publication in scientific journals. Once a journal receives a manuscript the journal sends it to 2-3 reviewers, who are experts in the field. Each reviewer writes a report that includes a recommendation on whether or not the manuscript should be published and advice to the author on how the manuscript can be improved. So far so good. Nothing seems wrong. This should work wonderfully. Well, in theory only. In reality it does not. In reality it is more of a disaster.

More here

(the dumbing down of America continues)

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