Forbes – Bad Science Muckrakers Question the Big Science Status Quo

14 Jul

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All is not well in publish-or-perish, peer review, government grant land

Among the American public, trust in professional scientists and scientific journals is declining. Yet an overwhelming majority still believes that science “remains a source for good in the world.” Could the public be on to something? Medical-doctor-turned-journalist Ivan Oransky thinks so. And it’s a growing problem.

As editor and publisher of Retraction Watch, a closely followed industry blog that tracks peer-reviewed journal articles withdrawn from publication, Oransky is raising awareness of the impact that competition for grants and career advancement is having on the quality of the science being produced. Far from being above the fray and immune to corrupting influences, “Scientists are just as human as anyone else,” says Oransky. And increasingly, “People are starting to see scientists the way they really are.”

One of the deeper problems is the publish-or-perish fight for resources, tenure, and prestige among the elite scientists whose living depends on maintaining the trust of the taxpayers who foot their bills. “Publication is the coin of the realm in academia,” says Oransky. “If you want to get tenure, if you want to get grants, if you want get promoted, if you want to get exposed to companies that might license your products, you have to publish in top journals.”

The academic pecking order is based on the number of papers a scientist gets published in high impact factor journals, that is, journals whose papers are heavily cited by other scientists. And yet, “The vast majority of scientific publications are never cited. There are something like 30,000 [published papers] a week.” How many of those can be first rate? How much second- and third-rate science is being funded? And how can we know?

To read the rest of the column in Forbes click here.

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