Love for science or academic prostitution?
In a Special issue of Nature in 2010 concerning Science Metrics, it was claimed that “Research reverts to a kind of ‘academic prostitution’ in which work is done to please editors and referees rather than to further knowledge.”
When discussing about the topic with the staff of the European Research Council (ERC) while working on evaluations, they suggested giving a talk in one of their seminars. This seemed to be the perfect place for it. Provoking debate on this respect in a place where such amount of decisions is made about economical investments in science, looked like an opportunity not to be missed. During that discussion, one of the colleagues from the ERC, when he heard the expression ‘academic prostitution’ exclaimed: ‘oh, I see, true love for science, that’s what we must have, the opposite to prostitution!’. These 2 concepts together gave the title to the seminar, Love for science or academic prostitution?, presented for the first time on the 12th of April of 2013 in a ERC scientific seminar in Brussels (Belgium) and afterwards (13th of June of 2013) at the IAA-CSIC and (26th of March of 2014) at the University of Granada, Spain).
It happens that science is going through a kind of kidnapping in which editorials charge authors several times to publish (which is not the same as making public, watch out!) their own results, and researchers keep competing for financial resources. In this “process” science does not reach its real recipient: the citizen that expects to get some benefit from science both by the applied knowledge and by knowing the results of basic research (what is the Universe we live in, what we are made of…).
The aim of this talk, of this reflection, is to provoke some additional critical thinking among the committees that select the evaluators and among the evaluators themselves which, at the same time, request from candidates a critical thinking as a sign of scientific excellence. The warning message to the funding bodies is that they may fall into the trap of their own system. By perpetuating this “prostitution” they take the risk of funding not the best science but the most sold one.
Given the current epoch of economical crisis, where in a quest for funds researchers are forced into competitive game of pandering to panelists, it seems a good time for deep reflection about the entire scientific system.
This talk is about the low reliability of the many commonly accepted metrics used for research, the vicious circle of publishing in high impact journals to make our CVs stronger hence making these journals get higher impact (and benefits), while increasing discrimination towards science produced in developing countries. But also about the emergence of alternative metrics that try to solve the fact that citations gather less than 1% of the use of an article, as well as on new methods of publication (not only of the rhetoric of results but of data and methods). Possible future or available tools (surprisingly? not coming from “pure” classical sciences, but from computational scientists) to support good ideas versus good marketing are presented. Giving more importance to methodology (is it reproducible?) against rewarding results, should be a guaranty of a better science, that is… Science.