More often than not, on any given day, someone sends me a link to an article detailing 1) why it is academic science needs more funds and 2) all the ways the system rewards the wrong behaviors and 3) why 2 is a result of 1. Here’s the latest example:
What is missing from many of this type of article is any serious self-reflective attempt to truly understand the roots of the “problem” concerning funding for academic science. Also lacking are deep thoughts about what many describe as the perverse academic norms that result from tight funding. For a group of people trained to ask questions, challenge assumptions, seek causal relationships, analyze data, and marshal a convincing argument – scientists seem to always appear completely hapless when it comes to addressing issues in their profession – a profession that is, after all, largely self-organized. Scientists determine who gets funding because they review grants. (I will grant that they do not control overall funding directly but they do have influence on this decision and they do determine how the pie is sliced.) All the major sources of funds for academic science are run by scientists. Scientists to a great degree decide what gets published because they are the producers, the editors, and the consumers of academic science journals. Academic scientists decide who their institutions will hire to be their colleagues and whether someone will be promoted (and tenured) or not. Scientists decide who gets recognized via awards and prizes. So why the hand-wringing? If academic scientists do not like the system they have created – change it. Stop recommending mediocre or flawed research for funding. Stop accepting manuscripts that fail to convince, are sexy but shallow, or represent yet another least publishable unit. Stop hiring co-workers because they will bring money and notoriety to your institution and resume hiring colleagues with a shared commitment to honesty and integrity.
Most of all, stop saying that the root of all the problems is not enough funding. The real roots of the problems stem from a dependence on an unlimited, unstainable growth model. So often I feel that what we really need is not more academic science but less. Academic science is hard to do well. What academic science does not need is more superficially trained, poorly mentored careerists pursuing success.