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In [ @bhattacharya2020 Stagnation and Scientific Incentives ], the authors argue that science after the II world war has stagnated. This can be seen from the slower GDP growth in the past few decades, both in industrialized and emerging economies. The authors argue that this is because of lack of development of new technologies that can improve economic efficiency, and not because of depletion of the low-hanging fruit in science .

The paper starts by outlining problems with citation-based metrics which are fundamentally related to incentivizing scientific work in areas that are rewarded, and that citations make science conservative . They then develop a model for the lifecycle of a sicentific idea and expand on the importance of the Scientific Exploration and Play to further extend knowledge. And finally, they argue that measure the exploration factor of research can lead to an enhancement of creative development.

Overall the paper hits an interesting topic, regarding the incentives at play when deciding what research lines to pursue. However, there are several topics that are harder to digest (see, for example 202102231930 ). They completely lack to acknowledge that funding is only half the equation, job security is the other half. They don't discuss who assumes the risk while doing research . What troubled me the most was understanding what the authors mean by 'impact' and overall what the output of science they think it should be.

In many grant applications, there's an increase demand for justifying outreach. This may be limiting exploration to ideas that may have better chances of generating technology transfer out of academia. What puzzles me the most is that the paper itself may be victim of not exploring true novel ideas. For example, assigning funds randomly has a non-zero chance of hitting a groundbreaking proposal. Or generating creative environments, for example by lowering the competition among peers. This can easily be done by offering permanent contracts much earlier on, for example after a PhD.

The authors do not discuss the importance of how society perceives publicly funded research. Scientists ought to be audited by the people who pay. And justifying spending money on crazy ideas may be (or may not be) easy to justify on the eye of public opinion.

The paper does not discuss the concentration of grants in few hands nor how research money is distributed across fields. They even seem to mock team play where it is an increasingly valued skill and can help cross barriers ( 202102231930 ).

Overall, the paper is interesting but rather unimaginative and does not advance ideas novel enough. Interestingly, they do not apply their own analysis to the cases they deem paradigmatic, such as the development of PCR and CRISPR. Nor they discuss other fields beyond bio-medicine, which have an almost instant translation to potential applications in people's lives. What about Astronomy, or Math?

Tags: #literature-note #scientific-management #science-funding

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Aquiles Carattino
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