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Is science dysfunctional? YES!

April 1, 2012

It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated this blog, but a discussion on /r/physics on Reddit today reminded me that there was an article I’ve been meaning to post.  The article discusses research into the growing number of retractions in scientific journals, and makes the argument that the greater pressures and increasingly competitive environment of academia is driving people to be less rigorous, and making them more likely to falsify data or publish results that have been poorly checked.

I don’t find this even the least bit surprising.  I’ve been ranting for years now that science is dysfunctional, from multiple angles, and this growing evidence of the failure of peer review, the grant distribution process, and the “publish or perish” environment is yet another piece falling into place.  The chorus of voices calling for major reform in academia is growing – hopefully people will start listening.


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  1. Maya permalink

    What kind of reform do you propose?

    • James permalink

      There are ideas for reform to the system scattered throughout this blog, but at the core, there is a pathological obsession with every professor being required to publish “groundbreaking” research, which clouds peoples’ judgement and drives this sort of behavior. At our core, we need to accept that not all science is “sexy”, and accept it at a very fundamental level, if we are to have any hope at reforming science.

      In reality, the only thing that will save us at this point is a massive cultural shift at the University level – the high number of retractions is just one of a multitude of symptoms that the system is severely broken. We need to prioritize quality education and building a future for existing students more, and judging professors by the number of students and dollars they churn through their labs less. In a world dominated by for-profit colleges, and supposedly not-for-profit public universities where the board of trustees are all driving a brand-new Lexus on the students’ dime, this is likely to be an absurd challenge.

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