Sunday, March 15, 2009

Will big science implode?

Different types of peer-reviewed research journalsImage via Wikipedia

I'm going to be blogging more about science-- not the actual research, but the bloated bureaucracies that surround it.

The current system is broken. Seriously broken. There is massive waste, and the various entities all taking their cuts means less dollars available for actual research.

It's getting worse. When everything is becoming more open, big science is becoming more closed. Less accessible to the public which pays for it. We do have a few bright spots, the Public Library of Science, and the new NIH Open-Access mandate to name a couple, but there is a lot more that needs fixing. Especially the funding.

We don't have a shortage of scientists. We produce a massive number of new scientists each year. The problem is that only a small number of them ever work for entities where they can actively practice the science for which they were trained. We're wasting a ton of talented cognitive cycles by maintaining the current closed system. It needs to be opened-up. Completely redesigned.

This post at Science in the open: Fantasy Science Funding: How do we get peer review of grant proposals to scale? raises many of the issues.

For grant review, the problems that are already evident in scholarly publishing, fundamentally the increasing volume, are exacerbated by the fact that success rates for grans (sic) are falling and that successful grants are increasingly in the hands of a smaller number of people in a smaller number of places.

The problems with big science won't be fixed by rearranging the deck chairs. There are too many people, getting too fat, for a systemic change to occur. Entrained systems don't tend to fix themselves--they usually implode.

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Peg said...

I hope you stay at this a long time, Kevin.

Aspects of the issue are heating up big time in the Huffington Post wordwar between Larry Lessig/Michael Eisen and Rep. John Conyers, whose HR 801 (Fair Copyright in Research Works Act)would limit Congress's right to require open access to publicly funded research.

Library Journal has a good summary of the ongoing debate, with relevant links.

Kevin Gamble said...

Well, I'm easy. It only takes a comment or two to keep me going. :)