A good quote

“Ah, there’s nothing more exciting than science. You get all the fun of... sitting still, being quiet, writing down numbers, paying attention... Science has it all.”- Principal Skinner

Monday, June 1, 2015

Social Scientists as Attention Hogs - A bad idea who's time has come?

In this NY Times article, an ugly truth is exposed: the desire for popular press attention has influenced journals in the social sciences to inflate results. These are technical journals, designed to add to science's body of knowledge through rigorous study and peer reviewed results. But the need to "make a splash" is overtaking the boring and careful nature of good science.

In addition to the impulse to make a splash now being exhibited by journal editors, authors themselves are under pressure to "make it big," whether due to pressures from universities (who often grant tenure based on a faculty member's publication success, not teaching ability) or from grant-writers who want to see a lot of "bang-for-the-buck."

When I started in grad school, it was the beginning of the digital age of publishing in journals. In the old days, we'd have to make multiple copies of a manuscript (yes, on paper) and mail them to the editors in a big envelope. The editor would then turn around and mail multiple copies to experts in the field for review. Then get the comments back (again, on paper)....it was slow.

High-speed internet, email, and digital submissions and mark-ups made everything faster. But researchers began to complain that maybe it was too fast. Was the need for speed good for science?  Was it encouraging sloppy reviewing and publication of dubious results, because everyone was moving too quickly to think hard about the content they were reviewing?

It's not an easy question to answer, and it's an uncomfortable one. I don't know the answer, except to note that the Times article points out that researchers today are complaining about how slow the publications process is - a sign that things aren't going to slow down any time soon.

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