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Dysfunction In Modern Science?

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the could-be-worse-could-be-social-text dept.

Businesses 155

eldavojohn writes "The editors of Infection and Immunity are sending a warning signal about modern science. Two editorials (1 and 2) published in the journal have given other biomedical researchers pause to ask if modern science is dysfunctional. Readers familiar with the state of academia may not be surprised but the claims have been presented today to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that level the following allegations: 'Incentives have evolved over the decades to encourage some behaviors that are detrimental to good science' and 'The surest ticket to getting a grant or job is getting published in a high profile journal, this is an unhealthy belief that can lead a scientist to engage in sensationalism and sometimes even dishonest behavior to salvage their career.' The data to back up such slanderous claims? 'In the past decade the number of retraction notices for scientific journals has increased more than 10-fold while the number of journals articles published has only increased by 44%.' At least a few of such retractions have been covered here."

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Grant whores and PR scientists (5, Insightful)

crazyjj (2598719) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486065)

When I was in grad school there were always grant-whore and PR scientists around. Everyone knew who they were. They were the Chicken Littles who were always proclaiming the end of the world if their pet project wasn't funded. They were always the first to run to the press with GREATLY exaggerated claims and alarmism if it served their purposes (especially when they were looking for political support with funding). Their "science" was far less about scientific method than their own financial self-interests (including getting the precious tenure that they all craved like little lapdogs).

Of course, I have a friend who still won't accept that this EVER happens. "Science would never allow that," he says. His naivete is so endearing.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39486225)

That's because it's not a problem with science, but rather with the funding of science, which is an administrative and political problem, not a scientific one. Strictly speaking, your friend is technically correct - the best kind of correct.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (4, Insightful)

Kenja (541830) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486233)

Your fried is right, "science" wont allow that to happen, but people will. And when it happens, its not science.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (5, Insightful)

idontgno (624372) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486865)

And what is "Science" (must capitalize correctly) without scientists? Including unscrupulous ones?

Way to posit "no true scientist." [wikipedia.org] .

Science is a human artifact. Every human artifact is potentially susceptible to fraud, manipulation, trolling, marketing, and every other foible and evil humans are capable of. Almost any human intention and motive can be expressed through the manipulation and corruption of the scientific process. And scientific fraud is no less about science than financial fraud is about finance.

There is no great, glorious and impersonal "Science". Insisting otherwise is just another form of deism, one that gives rise to the criticism that science is just another religion. And I'm sure no one here wants that.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487671)

Science itself is a philosophy, and like all philosophies there is the ideological view and the practical view.

Ideologically science is a philosophic framework that is used to determine what is true, what could be true, and what we don't know is true.

Practically, its a business that has a defined output (published papers) to justify its expense.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (5, Informative)

narcc (412956) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488101)

Science doesn't deal in truth -- and arguably, despite the name, deals only practically in knowledge -- science deals with understanding.

From science we build models of the natural world that are explanatory, but need not be true in any meaningful sense of the word. To declare something "true" is to make an unscientific statement as such a declaration denies falsifiability.

Consequently, science does not lead iteratively toward truth -- a popular misunderstanding. Such a goal is decidedly anti-science.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1, Interesting)

radtea (464814) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488317)

Consequently, science does not lead iteratively toward truth -- a popular misunderstanding.

It isn't clear why this is considered a "popular" misunderstanding when smug ignoramuses have been responding to it with nonsense like yours for decades. Idiots saying, "Science is about building models..." are at least ten times more common than idiots saying, "Science is about truth..."

Science is Bayesian. If you understand that you can drop all your nonsense about "models" and similar pseudo-Cartesian gibberish. If you don't understand that you aren't talking about science, but some imaginary philosophical construct that's completely irrelevant to any discussion of science.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

B1ackDragon (543470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488815)

Stating something is undoubtedly true would be anti-science, especially according to the falsifiability definition. But it should be noted that this wasn't (and in my opinion shouldn't) be meant to divorce science from truth: in fact, Popper (who popularized falsifiability [wikipedia.org] ) stated that "there are criteria of progress toward the truth [google.com] ".

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

englishknnigits (1568303) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487009)

The point is that it is labeled as science even when it isn't. People hold up findings and research claimed to be scientific as if they were science. Those findings and research were found and performed by people who are capable of mistakes, distortion, lies, and so on. People generally can't tell the difference between actual science and fake science sometimes published in scientific journals. A growing amount of bad science makes it more difficult to trust the current state of science. This stuff tends to sort itself out over time but puts recent developments more into question.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

dbet (1607261) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487411)

Why wouldn't "science" allow it? Science allows for outrageous hypotheses, even if they eventually can't be proven, or are proven false.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (4, Insightful)

magsol (1406749) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486269)

While it's disheartening to hear about such abuse of the scientific method, from a purely scientific perspective (meta!) this actually isn't all that surprising. Abuse exists in every system; there's always a distribution around the mean of those who are honest and trying to do the right thing, and the minority who are either malevolently trying to game the system or who are truly just competent enough to not get fired. I'm also a grad student and while I would love to agree with your friend--in theory, science shouldn't allow it, but as we know, theory and practice rarely align in practice--I have to acknowledge that science is just another system run by imperfect human beings and, implicitly, will have some imperfections.

The problem arises when this distribution of participants skews and the "expected" minority (the quantity of which you still try to minimize!) grows. So the question becomes: is modern science suffering from a growing problem of bad scientists? It's hard to say. While I'm willing to accept the numbers, the title "is modern science dysfunctional" is, itself, a tad bit sensational, making the rest of the article difficult to take seriously.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486303)

Unless you can quantify honesty, it's a distribution around the mode.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39486421)

While I'm willing to accept the numbers, the title "is modern science dysfunctional" is, itself, a tad bit sensational, making the rest of the article difficult to take seriously.

It's indeed ironic to have a sensational scientific article about the sensationalism in scientific articles.
If we take the article seriously, than by it's own standards, we shouldn't take it seriously.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (-1, Flamebait)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486499)

>>> who are either malevolently trying to game the system

Example: The Penn State guy who produced a temperature that resembles a hockey stick. It was later discovered he had altered his numbers to give the result desired (and thus become famous to the public & funded by the government).

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (2, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486737)

Ah, yeah. The good old poisoning the well argument combined with the Goebbels strategy of argumentation - repeat a lie until it becomes truth. At least you yourself do believe in it by now. Good job, liar.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (0)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487409)

Godwin (comparing me to a Nazi). Your post is invalidated as nothing but FUD..... if I wanted to hear that shit I'd tune-in Glenn Beck (compares democrats to nazis).

--- You also committed a logical fallacy of using an ad hominem attack....."You act like the Nazi Goebbels therefore you must be as dumb as him." Not a valid debate method and does invalidate my original post.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (3, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487499)

You are, word for word, using the strategy Goebbels laid out. That is not a fallacy, that is a simple fact. If you do not like that fact, you might want to change your debating strategy and for a change deal in facts, not in lies. Btw. Goebbels was by no means dumb. Probably the most intelligent of that particular crowd of lowlifes. Which, however, does change nothing about the original point, you being a liar, repeating the lies other liars served you.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487579)

Too bad for you Mindcontrolled (how ironic) wasn't comparing you to a nazi, he was simply using a well-known example to illustrate what you were doing. Besides, Godwin's Law makes no claim to the validity of a comparison, only that given enough time, a comparison becomes inevitable.

You are right about one thing though. Nothing Mindcontrolled said invalidates your original post. The fact that your original post is wrong, however, does invalidate it.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (0)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487477)

[correction]

You also committed a logical fallacy of using an ad hominem attack.....'You act like the Nazi Goebbels therefore you must be as dumb as him.' Not a valid debate method and does [not] invalidate my original post about Mann and how he has been caught, multiple times, fudging data or massaging his equations.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (4, Informative)

j-beda (85386) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486919)

>>> who are either malevolently trying to game the system

Example: The Penn State guy who produced a temperature that resembles a hockey stick. It was later discovered he had altered his numbers to give the result desired (and thus become famous to the public & funded by the government).

Or rather it was later *claimed* he had altered his numbers, etc. etc.

My understanding is that while there have been many criticisms of this work (the 1998 Nature journal Mann, Bradley and Hughes multiproxy study on "Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries"), the vast majority of subsequent work has supported the majority of their conclusions, and all investigated claims of improper conduct have come to naught.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hockey_stick_controversy [wikipedia.org]

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (-1, Troll)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487297)

You probably also believe the government's lies about Iran trying to nuke the U.S.
- Scientists are human beings.
- Human beings lie.
- Especially when there are rewards for lying.

"A social network of authorships in temperature reconstruction is described of at least 43 authors with direct ties to Mann by virtue of having coauthored papers with him. The findings from this analysis suggest that authors in the area of paleoclimate studies are closely connected and thus âindependent studiesâ(TM) may not be as independent as they might appear on the surface."

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488015)

Oh my. A "social network of scientist." Hold the presses! Scientists cooperate! That is positively socialist!!! We need to put a stop to such nonsense!

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (2)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487491)

Example: The Penn State guy who produced a temperature that resembles a hockey stick. It was later discovered he had altered his numbers to give the result desired (and thus become famous to the public & funded by the government).

I don't suppose it bothers you at all that your description of this incident has nothing to do with reality?

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486513)

"science shouldn't allow it, but as we know, theory and practice rarely align in practice"

It looks like science isn't allowing it, which isn't really surprising. The fakers are caught out eventually, whether it's being explicitly identified and their papers retracted, or their results disproved.

The problem is non-scientific - we'd like the system to work more efficiently by discouraging the fakery and other dirty tricks in the first place, using means unrelated to the scientific method.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (2)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486619)

Th outright fraud will be exposed, but the real problem is the huge amount of selection and publication bias that goes on (at least in biomed), as well as misuse of stats. We need to start getting excel spreadsheets in the supplements.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (0)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486825)

Behave. This is Slashdot. Don't say 'excel' - say 'data in CSV or other open format".

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487679)

This. Dunno about other fields, but it's pretty routine these days in bioinformatics and biostatistics for authors to post their data either as supplemental material with the article or on their departmental web site. The problem is that the format for the data they post is generally "whatever format I have it in at the moment" -- if your lab chooses to keep everything in Excel, that's your business, but it's no fun for the rest of us. Microarray data all goes into GEO [nih.gov] or ArrayExpress [ebi.ac.uk] these days, but even there the file specifications are much looser than they should be; and of course microarray data, as important as it is, is only one small portion of the bioinformatics data universe.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488255)

The chemistry and ecology departments here swears by Office and various other low-end Microsoft technologies. It really messed me up in first year to be inundated with crappy spreadsheets and "press the magic button to calculate the t-statistic!" in first year. Fortunately, later years have been more focused on real-world standards as my coursework has gotten more and more specific to bioinformatics. Presumably that's why I've had four separate lectures on the FASTA format.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488417)

It really messed me up in first year to be inundated with crappy spreadsheets and "press the magic button to calculate the t-statistic!" in first year.

Gaaah. Yeah. As a statistician, I have a real hatred for that kind of "teaching."

Presumably that's why I've had four separate lectures on the FASTA format.

Heh. It kind of makes sense if you figure that a fair number of people in each class will be coming in without the necessary prior knowledge. But it does get a bit insulting, doesn't it? It's as if every biology class, at every level, started with an explanation of the Krebs cycle. FASTA parsing is really Bioinformatics 101 material, and at some point, I'd like to see teaching in the field mature enough that familiarity with common file formats is assumed for anyone taking a class above the introductory level.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488361)

Interesting, I will definitely keep this in mind.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (3, Informative)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486829)

I have yet to see evidence that there is any publication bias, at least of the kind that most people talk about. There is an ANALYSIS bias - everybody (thinks) they know how to analyze for positive results, but few few researchers have any clue at all how to actually analyze negative results. When you hear the vast majority of (non-particle physics) researchers talk about "negative results" they're actually talking about inconclusive results - p-values that are not significant, with no discussion of beta, confidence intervals, or minimum significant effects. Inconclusive results shouldn't be published, unless it's to provide required sample size estimates for future studies.

Most researchers' poor stats skills are indeed a problem, but not a scientific method one. Errors due to poor stats will be discovered, in time, by the scientific method, just like actual fraud.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487613)

All data is beautiful and should be published. "Inconclusive" is subjective. It depends on the prior probability you ascribe to the hypothesis.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488083)

"All data is beautiful and should be published."

Almost all data is ugly, capricious and vile. Occasionally, with lots of work, you can dress it up to be moderately attractive. If you want to publish all data then start a Journal of Inconclusive Results and Lazy Statistics. The mainstream journals have too much trouble publishing what they get now.

"'Inconclusive' is subjective. It depends on the prior probability you ascribe to the hypothesis."

It is not. Your very next sentence suggests how it can be objectively assessed. If you're too lazy to calculate confidence intervals on your non-significant result and make an argument about why the maximum likely difference is too small to care about then you're definitely too lazy to properly calculate (and justify) prior probabilities.

In light of your post, let me revise the statement of my thesis slightly: "publication bias" as generally described is a bias against publishing papers with inadequate data and/or inadequate statistics.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (2)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488539)

Almost all data is ugly, capricious and vile.

Ha, this is what I think is beautiful. I was kind of kidding though. Anyway, journal's have no problem with publishing 5 pages articles with 40-50 page supplements, I don't think space is an issue. For people studying very similar things having access to the (almost) raw data would be very useful. Of course it should be curated and organized somewhat.

If you're too lazy to calculate confidence intervals on your non-significant result and make an argument about why the maximum likely difference is too small to care about then you're definitely too lazy to properly calculate (and justify) prior probabilities.

Which is exactly why the data should be published (in supplements), in case someone who is interested can assess that data. Are you really against this idea?

In light of your post, let me revise the statement of my thesis slightly: "publication bias" as generally described is a bias against publishing papers with inadequate data and/or inadequate statistics.

Selection bias (e.g. dropping outliers rather than stratifying) and over-reliance on summary statistics (often assuming normal distributions, etc) are the more important problems I believe this would solve.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1, Insightful)

eternaldoctorwho (2563923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486275)

I completely agree. The rampant elitism in academia is another contributing factor to how broken modern science is, I believe. I used to find it hilarious back in grad school how professors would never want anything to do with their students. Should a student produce something meaningful, however, you should see the scramble of the faculty to ride their coattails. It seems you can only be successful in science these days if you produce something that will make the faculty important and/or famous and/or wealthy.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (-1, Offtopic)

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Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (4, Insightful)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486293)

Double edged blade. If you have tenure then you can hold off on publishing to make sure you're really, truly correct. If you don't, then you have no choice.

To my mind the real issue is that the notion of "debate in the literature" is being rapidly killed by the increase in complexity and cost of some experiments, and to a greater extent the very terse manner in which journals like to have their experimental methods published: I'd much rather read a rambling journal or logbook then someone's - effectively "opinion" - on what they think their important experimental variables are, since accusing someone of publishing false information is ridiculously difficult (and not to be taken lightly) whereas people simply missing things is common and to be expected.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (2)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487715)

Debate in the literature is being killed by people (silly reviewers included) who think that everything should be perfect before it's published. Someone in the Slashdot story about cancer cures today posted that scientists shouldn't publish animal research because the results might not translate to humans. I had a reviewer on my last paper actually say "method should be perfect before it is published" because we mentioned some potential improvements we planned to look at as future work.

Sounds Like Climate Science (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39486311)

1. Chicken Little....check
2. Alarmism...check
3. Hostility towards those less than 100% supportive...check
4. Self Interest....check
5. Hiding or obfuscating data that doesn't agree with their theory....check
6. etc.

Re: Sounds Like Climate Science (0)

thomasw_lrd (1203850) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486913)

1. Create alarmist theory to get funded.
2. Create data to support theory
3. Profit!!!

We finally solved the ???? problem.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (4, Interesting)

Pausanias (681077) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486347)

You are either bitter, or were stuck in a bad department. While such sensationalist people certainly exist, few of them actually influence the broader debate. In my community such people are far outnumbered by brilliant and truly insightful researchers who work incredibly hard and whose contributions to our understanding of the universe are vastly undervalued by their pay. To think that some of the most brilliant minds in the world, working at the frontiers of science simply because they love it, are paid no more than a senior code monkeys, is the real travesty.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (2)

SJester (1676058) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486509)

I'm in a similar community but unfortunately people outside of science, even educated and intelligent people, do not distinguish between the two breeds. My university is honoring a well-respected faculty thinker who proffers deep and meaningful opinions with little evidence, while us fact-based scientists slave like Morlocks in the subterranean labs to find evidence for little things. The people who set our salaries enjoy showmanship; they call it "good communication." I'm often asked, in fact, why we don't discover stuff like Scientist X, or when we'll have a cure for Malady Y. I'm a scientist after all, shouldn't I have a silver bullet by now?

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (1)

wisty (1335733) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487291)

It is "good communication". It does add a lot of value. Malcolm Gladwell famous because he's a great communicator. But it would be silly to call him a scientist.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (4, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486791)

The climate denialists' poisoning of the wells has worked out. Everyone believes by now that "they are only doing it for the grant money".

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (5, Insightful)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486701)

In other news, HR people find out that when people are judged against a specific metric, those people will work towards that metric and disregard their actual job. HR and management is particularly shocked, and wants to know what metrics they can use to make sure people don't game their system.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (-1, Troll)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487055)

Good thing this doesn't apply to Global Warming science.

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487271)

*cough*Global Warming*cough*

Re:Grant whores and PR scientists (2)

operagost (62405) | more than 2 years ago | (#39489045)

"Science would never allow that?" That's the problem right there: assuming that science is a moral system.

meh (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39486067)

meh

Yet... (4, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486133)

For some reason, people defend publish-or-perish and systems that evaluate researchers based on the quantity of work or the names of journals or conferences where they have presented their work.

Re:Yet... (5, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486237)

Publish or perish is good. As a scientist you MUST communicate your ideas or you're a failure. What's wrong is the use of simple metrics like paper count or journal "quality." As usual, if you want to properly evaluate someone's worth you need to use your brain, not your calculator.

Re:Yet... (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488401)

Publish or perish is good. As a scientist you MUST communicate your ideas or you're a failure. What's wrong is the use of simple metrics like paper count or journal "quality." As usual, if you want to properly evaluate someone's worth you need to use your brain, not your calculator.

I agree with the latter, but as for the first sentence? Not so much. The reason why? We need look no further than a gent by the name of Jan Hendrik Schön [wikipedia.org]

Re:Yet... (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488877)

"The scandal provoked discussion in the scientific community about the degree of responsibility of coauthors and reviewers of scientific papers. The debate centered on whether peer review, traditionally designed to find errors and determine relevance and originality of papers, should also be required to detect deliberate fraud."

Nothing to do with publish or perish. The guy wasn't even faking things because he was up for review and didn't have any papers - he was faking things to get famous.

If that's the best example you can come up with....

Re:Yet... (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488965)

Motivation isn't the issue here, only the environment and results. ;)

Re:Yet... (3)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486325)

But really, there's another way to solve this problem, and one that I'm sure at least some people make use of: Plagiarism.

To quote Tom Lehrer:

I am never forget the day I am given first original paper to write. It was on analytic and algebraic topology of locally Euclidean metrization of infinitely differentiable Riemannian manifold. Bozhe moi! This I know from nothing. What I'm going to do? But I think of great Lobachevsky and get idea - ahah!

I have a friend in Minsk, who has a friend in Pinsk
Whose friend in Omsk has friend in Tomsk
With friend in Akmolinsk
His friend in Alexandrovsk has friend in Petropavlovsk
Whose friend somehow is solving now
The problem in Dnepropetrovsk

And when his work is done - ha ha! - begins the fun
From Dnepropetrovsk to Petropavlovsk
By way of Iliysk and Novorossiysk
To Alexandrovsk to Akmolinsk
To Tomsk to Omsk to Pinsk to Minsk
To me the news will run
Yes, to me the news will run

And then I write, by morning, night
And afternoon, and pretty soon
My name in Dnepropetrovsk is cursed
When he finds out I publish first

Re:Yet... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39486337)

Agreed. I'm just finishing grad school in the field myself, and I see first-hand what the hyper-competitive, quantity-over-quality, impact factor-obsessed academic research system of today has brought about: At the very least, it breeds very conservative, fashionable, least-imaginative research because it's "safe" and therefore ensures the continuation of one's career. At worst, it creates incentives to lie or exaggerate (people do desperate things when their entire career is on the line).

A major watershed change in academic biomedical research is going to have to occur in the very near future.

Re:Yet... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39486985)

Re:Yet... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487573)

Really? Because despite what a popular snarky webcomic has to say, I think most people familiar with the situation would much more accurately call it "pad your part like a grade school-level book report or have a brown-nosing fearmonger take all the grant money regardless of content". Which is most certainly NOT productive to the fields of education or science in any way.

Re:Yet... (2)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487753)

I'm familiar with the situation. Most granting agencies, and most universities, at least the ones I interact with, have reasonable limits for minimum productivity. If you're going multiple years without producing any publications you're not contributing to the scientific community and need to reexamine the way you do science. On the flip side, if you're publishing a hundred papers a year, the university needs to take a look at exactly how you're doing it.

Sounds Like Climate Science (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39486175)

Dysfunctional is too generous a term to describe Climate Science. Their political pandering, hostility towards those who disagree or even simply just don't buy in 100% and their seeming inability to admit that their work has flaws.

Re:Sounds Like Climate Science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39488163)

You've just been Climate Scienced!

"Dissenters shall be silenced."

The Orb (1)

Grindalf (1089511) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486203)

They were even implying that alcohol, tobacco and LSD were harmful. Exactly the opposite of what we now know to be true.

Solution (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39486241)

Well, the solution is pretty simple. Make sure that grants and jobs are not ridiculously hard to obtain. It is not uncommon at all to have 300 applicants for 1 tenure-track position. It is generally agreed upon that above a 3:1 pressure, things start to get messy. For grants we are closer to 5:1-10:1 and it has been increasing at an alarming rate over the last few years. And for jobs we are around 300:1 as i mentioned earlier. Incidently i have still not landed a tenure-track job.

Re:Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487337)

Reminds me of that Onion headline I heard: "Jobs in the field of get-paid-to-do-whatever-you-want are scarce; highly sought after."

Naturally (3)

john83 (923470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486263)

Surely any competitive system to select people for desirable posts is going to encourage dubious behaviour? Those editorials don't seem to offer very significant changes, just new metrics for people to game. It's not just academia either - every career where your value is measured by some proxy metrics is going to see unethical behaviour from people near the cut-off.

Re:Naturally (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487783)

Agreed, but 72% for "questionable research practices" and 14.12% for falsification of results is extremely high by any standard.

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0005738

It may well be because of competition, it likely is, but these numbers are WAY too high to be acceptable. If competition is what is the problem, then competition has to be eliminated from the equation and some other strategy has to be used. Think about all the money being poured into research, development and implementation, then consider that even allowing for reproduction of results, the chances of a given result being correct (questionable research practices leads to essentially useless results, falsification absolutely leads to useless results) is still dangerously small.

I'm not saying that skeptics of the sciences are right - they're often wrong - but with results like these I can hardly blame them. Assuming no overlap, the numbers give you 86.12% of all results being worthless. Even with total overlap, you've 72% you have to discard. Which means that between 13.88% and 28% of science is actually of any value. It's hard to be critical of GM crop skeptics if only 28% of the science concerning ecological and human safety is actually honest.

(This doesn't help climate cynics - reproduction of results and verification by independent means has essentially eliminated any bias that may have been introduced.)

Re:Naturally (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 2 years ago | (#39489063)

Haha, AC is guilty of questionable research practices.

Between 6.2% and 72% of respondents had knowledge of various questionable research practices (Table S3) (Figure 3, N = 23 (6 studies), crude unweighted mean: 28.53%, 95%CI = 18.85â"38.2).

http://www.plosone.org/article/slideshow.action?uri=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0005738&imageURI=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0005738.g003 [plosone.org]

From Sup 3:

Indicate the number of IADR/AADR members you have observed/experienced exhibiting X within the last 5 years:
-Overlooking others' use of flawed data or questionable interpretation of data: 72% yes

IADR/AADR are dental research associations and the original source is from 1996. So that number doesn't really mean what you portrayed it to mean.

There's nothing wrong with science... (4, Insightful)

Gavin Scott (15916) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486309)

...but people forget that "scientists" are not "science", they are simply people using the tools of science to seek the kind of knowledge that the scientific method and process can produce. As such they are subject to all of the same pressures, hopes, dreams, failures, etc. that the rest of us are.

But the process of science itself will always move forward, since science is only about reproducible experiments, so no matter how much bad (human) behavior might get involved, eventually the "truth" will win out. But the bad behavior can of course be extremely damaging to the process.

So there's nothing wrong with "science" or even its application I think. There are probably economic incentives that are promoting behaviors that affect the short-term reliability and the long-term costs of gaining useful scientific knowledge though, and hopefully we can come up with ways of improving the meta-processes.

G.

Re:There's nothing wrong with science... (1)

repapetilto (1219852) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488707)

The problem is that it is wasting a bunch of time and money. Both of the researchers publishing crap and those who have to sift through it.

Eisenhower's farewell adress (4, Interesting)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486371)

Read the part after the one everyone always quotes about the 'military-industrial complex'.

Back to the Garage (1)

troylanes (883822) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486409)

I'd love to see more real science and research done in the garage/basement rather than in environments which are prone to the "publish or perish" disease. Are there still basic concepts of the universe to be discovered that don't require a particle accelerator or electron microscope? I'd be willing to be there are. It also seems that current academia is so focused on such tiny details of a particular phenomenon that they can't see the forest through the trees...

Re:Back to the Garage (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486543)

Your best hope for home science is in bio and astronomy, not so much physics.

Its a risk thing... you can't study something "at work" unless you can guarantee it'll pay off and feed you and your family with better odds than everything else you could do. However, at home, feel free to scoop up some dirt and look at it under a microscope during the day, or go variable star and nova searching during the night. If it doesn't work, that's OK, you still get paid and get to eat, and all you miss is an Oprah rerun on TV. If it works, then publish.

Re:Back to the Garage (3, Informative)

the gnat (153162) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487239)

Your best hope for home science is in bio

It depends on the sub-field of bio. Genetics of yeast or E. coli: easy and (comparatively). Structures of human neuroreceptors: difficult and expensive (particle accelerator required). Do-it-yourself will only take you so far: you can build your own thermocycler without too much struggle, but what about a system for purifying proteins? It may be tempting to do a half-assed job inexpensively, but the pros use equipment that costs tens of thousands of dollars. (We have to - it would waste too much time otherwise, not just in the time lost by doing manually what a machine can do for us, but later when we discover that our exciting result was actually an artifact caused by a contaminating protein [nature.com] .) You can find some of this equipment used if you know where to look (and know how to detect junk), but it still requires a significant amount of disposable income.

The one field where amateurs really do have a chance is computational biology/bioinformatics. However, "amateur" in this case means someone with a sophisticated knowledge of math and statistics, which generally implies an advanced degree (and/or extensive professional experience) in a technical field.

at home, feel free to scoop up some dirt and look at it under a microscope during the day

I cannot recommend this highly enough to anyone with an interest in the life sciences and a desire for independent learning. This was how I became interested in biology, and after more than a decade of higher education and professional research, I have done very few things that were as fulfilling as watching rotifers and protists feeding, and seeing how many species I could count in a drop of pond water. Even a cheap child's microscope is sufficient to get started, and you can buy higher-quality equipment (the kind that gets used in introductory bio lab in college) used for under $1000.

The problem, unfortunately, is that it's very difficult to do truly original and significant research like this. For the pure learning experience it can't be beat, and I suspect one could make some truly spectacular YouTube videos, but it's no substitute for doing science the messy way, with a real lab and real funding.

Re:Back to the Garage (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488307)

Get some petri dishes, and try to purify a line of bacteria or protists or whatever from your backyard. Then using some mostly off the shelf gear figure out the optimum growth conditions. Or... do enviro research. Remember when MTBE was "new" well figure out how many ppm a off the shelf back yard fungi line can tolerate. Or modern pink slime.

Basically, you can do stuff at home that is not "profitable".

Re:Back to the Garage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39488419)

Politics flew us to the moon using science... Religion flew us into buildings using science. - Me The key here is not that science is used... it's for what ends.

Re:Back to the Garage (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486571)

So go do it.

Re:Back to the Garage (4, Interesting)

Arrepiadd (688829) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486961)

My view of it is that there aren't that many basic concepts to discover in the back of your garage. Particle accelerators, high-field NMR machines, electron or AFM microscopes, huge ground-based or orbital telescopes are needed to make the next discoveries in their respective fields because the easy stuff, that could be seen with bubble chambers, low-field magnets, optical microscopes and small telescopes was already discovered. It's a matter of diminishing returns.
Scientists have been doing their jobs for hundreds of years, no one is going to discover an improved version of the laws of gravitation with a 100 dollar telescope. What may come out of observing dark matter was obtained with multi-million dollar equipment, collaborative effort and brilliant minds going over and over the same thing.

Granted, there may be things to discover that can still be attained in a garage. In hindsight everything is easy, but if no one is looking, there may still be amazing things still to observe in your kitchen lab. But expecting the cure for problems of the world to come out of a bunch of semi-amateur scientists is betting on the wrong horse... it may happen in a field or two, but it won't be the future of science.

some issues only in life sciences, some insoluble (4, Interesting)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486497)

A lot of the issues discussed here are only relevant in the life sciences, and especially in medicine. Retractions are not a big phenomenon in the physical sciences. Ditto for publication bias (refusal by journals to publish negative results or failed attempts to replicate published results). This is essentially just because the life sciences are harder than the physical sciences. The life sciences have much more intractable problems with complexity of systems and difficulty in controlling variables.

Some of the problems they discuss are clearly insoluble. The uncertain career prospects for young scientists are a straightforward matter of supply and demand. There are many, many very talented people who would like to spend their careers doing fundamental scientific research. The number of such people is 1 or 2 orders of magnitude greater than the number of jobs available. This isn't a new phenomenon, although in the past the problem may have been hidden more, because, e.g., up until about 1950, only white, affluent, European and American males were considered prospects for a career in science.

Re:some issues only in life sciences, some insolub (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486625)

Could be that physical sciences have about two or three generations more experience with the concept of pounding the data set with computers for statistical analysis. Maybe give the soft sciences another generation or two?

A big factor might be that datasets are no longer handwritten in a lab notebook on the experimenters desk, but are living on flash drives, DVD-Rs, dropbox, ftp sites...

Re:some issues only in life sciences, some insolub (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487235)

Perhaps, but bioinfomatics is an up and coming field. The big, big problem is the inherent variability of biologic systems and our rather primitive understanding of same. The other problem is we're shotgunning science - we spend an enormous amount of money to study human biology (poorly, in general) whilst we should really be spending money on the back end - bugs and worms and the like that we might be able to understand better.

There are good reasons for this, of course, and 'science' doesn't really care. If we spend the next 100 years running around in the wrong direction, then figure it all out, well, that's science. Nobody said we had to understand life, the Universe and everything in our lifetimes.

Re:some issues only in life sciences, some insolub (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487721)

"Could be that physical sciences have about two or three generations more experience with the concept of pounding the data set with computers for statistical analysis. Maybe give the soft sciences another generation or two?"

Student's t-test was invented in 1908 so that the Guinness brewery could monitor the quality of their stout. Food scientists have been doing statistics ever since. Statistics is old hat for biologists.

Re:some issues only in life sciences, some insolub (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39488875)

"Science flies us to the moon. Religion flies us into buildings."

"Religion built Notre Dame. Science built Dachau."

OP is broken (2)

Improv (2467) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486517)

The high profile journals weed out sensationalist claims more often than not (part of being high-profile is having a finely tuned bullshit meter). The number of retractions are also a sign of strength, as the mechanisms forcing people to correct their errors are getting better. This isn't to claim that the process doesn't have room for improvement, but the cited examples are rubbish.

Re:OP is broken (2)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486755)

The number of retractions are also a sign of strength, as the mechanisms forcing people to correct their errors are getting better.

This is what I was thinking. Perhaps along with this, it is simply easier with today's technology to identify faulty or incorrect (whether intentionally or not) research? Communication is easier, so more people can look at your data, your analysis, your conclusions, and with a larger audience, the more likely it is that any incongruity will catch someone's eye. 100 years ago there was a much smaller audience for scientific research, and it could take a long time (months, if not years) for any interested party to get data from a researcher or recreate a research project. Now it can be done in a matter of hours. The larger the audience, the more difficult it is to fool them.

Re:OP is broken (3, Insightful)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487383)

The high profile journals weed out sensationalist claims more often than not (part of being high-profile is having a finely tuned bullshit meter). The number of retractions are also a sign of strength, as the mechanisms forcing people to correct their errors are getting better. This isn't to claim that the process doesn't have room for improvement, but the cited examples are rubbish.

In my head the summary read "Modern science is dysfuctional, claims several modern scientists. See attached scientific statistics for details."

Re:OP is broken (1)

asylumx (881307) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488029)

Wish I had a mod point! Great observation!

It's just CAPITALism at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39486569)

Capital = money. Much of the modern world is capitalism, so, we're all slaves to money and those who control it. What's not to understand here?

Crowd Fund Biomed Research (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39486751)

How about we apply the Kickstarter model that is improving the gaming industry to Biomed research, all we need is a platform that connects people with various ailments to the researchers interested in developing treatments and doing basic science related to those particular illnesses.

There can be some mandatory requirements like not being able to patent the results ( or being able to patent shorter periods of time) of the research and making sure that it's published i in an open access journal like PlosONE. This way we eliminate the incentive for the researchers to gain advantages with unfair techniques and also encourage new talent to join the industry.

I'm sure there's lots of researchers with great leads and ideas that just don't get enough funding from the pharma companies because they won't bring revenues in the short term, this is especially true for drugs with patents that are expired but might have different new applications and treatments that use materials which are not patentable.
There's lots of similarities with the gaming industry if you draw analogies between big pharma and publishers, maybe the solution is the same, cut the middleman.

Re:Crowd Fund Biomed Research (1)

stillnotelf (1476907) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488389)

We already did this to a large extent. Surely you've heard of the Komen foundation? When they're not getting in trouble for political mishaps, they fund a TON of cancer research via private donations. Similar groups exist for most first-world chronic diseases, although there isn't a lot of public-private funding of this sort for third-world infectious diseases (that I'm aware of).

Re:Crowd Fund Biomed Research (1)

stillnotelf (1476907) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488405)

We already *do* this....

Journals can't verify articles (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487141)

You can't expect journals to vrify the claims of a paper. That's the job of the scientific community, to try to replicate the results and see what happens. Of course, accepting unreplicated results as facts is a serious problem in some sciences.

Re:Journals can't verify articles (2)

green1 (322787) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487845)

One of the big problems I've been hearing about recently is that many journals refuse to publish replication papers, which means nobody wants to replicate the results of any paper to see if the original author was correct, because they themselves won't be able to publish it.
Replication is one of the most important part of the scientific process, it's how you find liars, cheats, and actual errors. If you discourage people from trying to replicate other's experiments you harm the whole scientific process.

Praise science (1)

schrodingersGato (2602023) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487227)

Dishonesty has become a real problem in science. Some recent cases (Judy Mikovits [slate.com] , Luk Van Parijs [nature.com] , and Dipak K. Das (aka the red-wine researcher) [nytimes.com] ) reveal some serious misconduct from high profile researchers. Certainly, part of this is due to the increased pressure on scientific researchers. The other part of this is generational. Cheating and misconduct are certainly more prevalent [nytimes.com] .in younger generations (or perhaps its always been this way and they are just not quite as clever).

Pseudo-scientist make .... (1)

OldHawk777 (19923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487259)

The primary work of pseudo-scientist is to make faux-science for personal, religious, corporate, and government purposes.
Sort of like the Iran-science of tits-&-earthquake relativity, USA proof of poof Iraq-WMDs, EU ..., RU ..., CN ....

Highly certified people accept lies as personally essential. Highly qualified people accept proof/truth as life critical.

Not "slanderous" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487663)

The claims were written, so they can't be slander. They are unlikely to be libelous either, since they seem to have been made in good faith with a factual basis.

That's Why They're Peer Reviewed! (1)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487701)

The problem is not with a the papers submitted. The problem is with the editorial board not taking time to peer review the articles and simply rubber stamping them for publication. Seems to me these journals wanted to jump on the sensationalism band wagon to get greater publicity.

Even at the basest level (1)

Cazekiel (1417893) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487989)

Considering how many misinformed people there are on the internet, there are lots of people who aren't even taking a basic science requirement in school at the time they post random bull in youtube comments, their blogs, their facebooks, etc. all of which, while not an influential public claim to scientific research, creates loads of other spout-off-the-mouth misinformed folk who read the ridiculous e-diatribes. Crap is made up on spot it seems, all reactionary and without an ounce of "I might be wrong..." added. Like I said, not someone from actual influence, but when you have a YT vid of an E! TV feature on Snooki turn into scientific debate, it gets scary. People just like to think "I'm RIGHT!" all the time and will turn opinion into fact (which, I admit, I sometimes fall victim to. :P).

A real scientist, homegrown, self-taught or MIT-learned needs to have a serious sense of humility, because so many conjectures made can turn out the exact opposite of what was theorized.

Meta-sensationalism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39488371)

Breaking, life-altering, all-important news: People sometimes sensationalize things!

Penalty for fraud & deception (1)

grep_rocks (1182831) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488625)

What baffles me is why aren't the authors of retracted articles punished in some way? At a research lab I worked at the prominent researcher proclaimed the discovery of a new particle that made a big splash in the news - when you looked at the details, he wasn't even the first guy to claim it, it is just that the original claim had marginal statistical significance, he just claimed he got a bigger signal - he got lots of citations, but no-one could repeat the experiment and when you looked closer at what he did to get the signal he just told some poor post-doc to keep refitting the data with different cuts until he found a signal. Well in any event the guy still runs his lab, and he pretty much tries to screw anyone who disagrees with him through his position on funding committees - so nobody fucks with him. Given that I think the funding process need to be reformed, with more reviewers and anonymous grant submissions - the funding system can be gamed to lock people out you have a grudge against and that keeps people in fear of people allowing them to get away with crappy sensationalist science.
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