Though 50 percent of science in America is done by the corporate world, journal articles are overwhelmingly written by academics.
The reason is simple: In the private sector, it is a given that basic research may not produce anything. A drug company expects 1 out of 5,000 efforts to get to market and entire divisions at some companies have never led to a product. CEOs understand it can't be a free-for-all but there has to be room for creativity, and those researchers don't have to think about validating their existence.
Academia is a different story. After World War II, and the success government had in corralling researchers toward a common goal, the government increasingly began to fund research. Academia has boomed, ever more reliant on government funding, and government feeds the beast by speding billions of dollars promoting government-funded academic research as the only "real" science. There needs to be a metric for success in how taxpayer money is being spent, and a journal system that is now 350 years old filled that need.
Yet it is not really simply a wholesome college environment interested in answering the basic questions of life and the universe. Though there are more people trying to be academics than ever - 6X as many as there are jobs in academia - the funding cannot go up to match all of the people who think they deserve it. As a result, average ages and experience needed for an R01 grant are going up while salaries for post-doctoral positions go down.
Government grants are a gigantic industry, the National Institutes of Health alone are $30 billion a year, so when it comes review time for government-funded researchers to show why they should get taxpayer money, there are far too many now to manage without lots of committees and some sort of metric - and the easiest metric to use is one that has been around for centuries -publication.
But publication as a fetish has only been around since the 1980s. The Reagan administration was incredibly pro-science, he wanted to throw money at basic research; that and the military were two areas where he felt government money should be spent. But they needed a metric for accountability and publications were the answer. In the small print publishing world of the time, a journal was a gatekeeper for legitimacy and peer review has always been a conservative brake on wild claims.
But open access publishing, for all its benefits, also opened up digital publishing for anyone with a credit card. And even prominent publishers like PLOS have let peer review backslide into editorial review at their revenue driver, PLOS One. Editorial review is not really new, last year in the Wall Street Journal I got national exposure for PNAS on how a paper by an activist scientist in Berkeley against a common pesticide had no peer review; Tyrone Hayes instead hand-picked a friend of his inside the Academy to review it and his pal David Wake never even asked for the data behind the controversial claims. When EPA was alarmed by the result and asked Hayes for the data, he refused to show it. Which means he likely made a mistake and does not want it revealed and for his paper to be retracted.
The Academy was so mortified they changed their policy a few weeks later.
Yet elsewhere frauds continue, like that a 20 minute endorsement of naive 'if we just talk to each other we will all get along' therapy when it came to gay marriage. Those are covered in a recent article in the New York Times and you can read more here.
Academic Science 'Fetishizes' Journal Publication
By Hank Campbell | June 3rd 2015 03:57 PM | Print | E-mail
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