Monday, November 4, 2013

Changing science, one lengthy PDF at a time

This weekend, I read an article entitled: ”Rebels rise against science gone crazy” (my translation) in one of my homecountry’s newspapers. A short version can be found here, the whole article is behind a paywall. The article was about a group of Dutch scientists, who believe that certain things in science need to change. These scientists by the way are all white males in their fifties (from looking at their pictures). Apparently increasing diversity, which is not one of their goals anyway, is not something the group strives for themselves. But exactly what do they think needs to change? I first clicked on their website, called “Science in Transition”, that is unfortunately completely in Dutch. There are a couple English articles on there, if you know that for that you have to click on “meer lezen”. (No wonder Nature Magazine recently found that there is very little mobility between European countries.) The scientists have written a manifest stating their ideas and solutions. However, this manifest is a 31 page PDF with no bullet points, highlighted sentences or a summary. It’s harder to read than the classic Fatt and Katz paper about electrophysiology, but I read it anyway (as opposed to Fatt and Katz I must admit to my shame).

In this PDF the writers define what the problem is: one part of the problem is that scientists are judged too much on basis of impact factors, and H-index, which can be influenced according to these authors by scientists promising each other authorships and citations. Another (perhaps related) problem is that the public has the wrong ideas about how science works and how scientists come to certain conclusions. The third problem is scientific fraud.

Now I wanted to summarize their ideas and solutions to change science, but the need to do science got in the way of getting through these pretty horribly written 31 pages of the manifest. In very short (copied from the newspaper article), they state:
  •         Society should be more involved with the identification of scientific problems that scientists need to work on.
  •         The value of science (and scientists?) needs to be measured not with impact factors and h-indexes but with societal relevance.
  •         The number of PhD students should decrease, and PhD students should learn better how the science world works.
  •         Scientists should be honest about insecurities about their data, conflicting results and conflicts between scientists.
  •         More research should be done on the sociology and economy of science itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great that people are thinking about how to change science and that scientists are trying to be open about the flaws in the current scientific system, but PLEASE write a manifest that is readable because throwing this manifest down from the ivory tower may not be the best way to change science. Also, please discuss their ideas and solutions.

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