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“This week, I resigned from my position at Duke University” (facebook.com)
279 points by Fede_V 771 days ago | hide | past | web | 133 comments | favorite



I absolutely agree with everything in this post. When I was a post doctoral fellow, my principal investigator would publish at least one paper a month. She was celebrated in the department.

(a) The papers were published in journals like - Journal of Green Donkey Testicles, Journal of differentiation of dying mouse ... Journals that I had never heard of, had no impact and every tiny bit of an experiment that was conducted in the lab, would get published, without a full picture.

(b) Much of the data was turned into data by turning everything into being 'statistically significant' . I would do experiments and I would see no freaking difference between control and experimental, yet, through the magic of statistics, she would find the difference. It was lame and depressing.

(c) Above is an isolated example. There are countless smart, diligent and hard working professors who continue to push the boundaries of science (ex. my amazing PhD prof, whom I dearly love and admire). Unfortunately, their time is plagued by writing grants after grants, fighting inter-departmental politics, dealing with Chair of the department on regular basis ... basically stuff that distracts them from having the time to relax, think and innovate.

(d) Commercialization of innovations in schools and universities are butchered by the IP policies, where by the University would take 1/3, the commercialization office would take 1/3 and the poor researcher is left with the rest. This kills innovation + tech commercialization and the desire of a researcher to be an entrepreneur.


I have a friend getting her PhD in neuroscience who constantly told me about absurd things matching your (a) and (b) examples. In her lab, (b) was particularly prevalent--she estimated, based on that experience, that ~90 percent of what is published in neuroscience today would be completely unreproducible because of these statistical factors introduced to "massage" data into a more impressive-looking form. Photoshop was also frequently used to make images appear to show a more profound contrast of control v. experiment. All in all, she became disgusted with the entire department and considered giving up becoming a scientist altogether; and yet, according to my googling, she was at one of the top ten programs in the United States...


tell her to switch to data science


Regarding d) - how much do you think the researcher, much of whose work was presumably funded by taxpayer dollars, should get?


I believe University of Waterloo is one of the few that does full ownership of work by Prof (I could be wrong) .. and year after year, they beat the biggest Universities in Canada for being ranked as the #1 in entrepreneurship, tech commercialization and innovation. I think its the subsequent economic impact that counts, rather than sequestering innovation for the sake of a few bucks in 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 ownership model.

https://uwaterloo.ca/research/waterloo-commercialization-off...

Many of the big giants of tech world have set up offices all around uWaterloo and enjoy a symbiotic relationship w/ the research faculty.


Agreed; I'm a researcher at an institution where the researchers get 1/3rd (split among all the patent authors). That fraction is okay with me. We get a huge boost from having access to the university community and the department's resources.

The only annoyance is that the 1/3rd comes from the University's profits, not revenue. The costs of the patent application, including the tech-transfer office salaries, are subtracted first.


I think the point goes towards the idea that the rewards should be related to the risk.

Commercializing IP - which is not a product yet - is non-trivial, could take years to productize, and then longer to penetrate (or create) a market. In short, it's a long, painful, and often expensive process that often fails anyway. If there was a way to provide a license agreement that was more favorable to product/market validation, that could change the economics.

Unfortunately, I've only participated in licensing once, so I don't have an alternative model to suggest.


Since the income generated is taxed anyway, Some of the proceeds go back to where they came from. An investment of sorts. The university and commercialization office should probably get cuts more commensurate with their contributions, whatever that may be.


I met and worked with JF for 6 months. I learned an enormous amount working with him. His creativity in experimental design and his approach to answering questions was inspiring. Sadly, the fact that he is leaving academia does not surprise me. People who care more about doing good science than about publishing (those are absolutely NOT the same things) rarely make it in academia. Funding for true basic research has contracted significantly and scientific communities have become incredibly risk averse with regard to who and what they give grants to. The peer review system reviews based on social norms within that field, not on what is actually good science. Finally, training and education are still based on the guild system. People who actually want to advance the state of human knowledge, not just have an academic position, find this environment toxic.

Best of luck to JF in his future endeavours. Academia is the true looser here.


The CS field gets a lot of bashing for gravitating a lot around conferences rather than journals. Because, you know, journals are supposed to be the serious venue for the grown-ups. But actually, CS conferences (at least the ones I've published in) have a double-blind review system that feels much fairer than the single-blind in the top journals. Of course it's far from perfect (more often than not the reviewers can guess the affiliation of the authors anyway) but things like almost needing to talk to the editor to publish papers, or the editor using author name as an important acceptance criterion, do not happen AFAIK. In general my experience with reviews has felt much fairer in conferences with double blind system than in the typical journals with editorial boards full of sacred cows. And I don't say that out of spite for rejection, because in fact I've had more rejections in conferences than in journals.

A pity that in my country (Spain) the bureaucratic requirements for funding, tenure, etc. are one-size-fits-all and basically conferences count almost nothing and journals are everything, even if in my particular subfield no one cares about journals. So I end up playing a double game: publishing some papers where I know I should to find the right audience, and others where I am forced to to survive.


Double blind is a farce in practice in most CS specialties (maybe not bloated fields like AI/HCI/graphics?). Once you get to the top tier, everyone knows everyone, including the industrial labs, including what they're working on. Most good work is too differentiated to anonymize to well-versed readers: less Neural Networks for X, more Sub-Theory of a Sub-Theory or Version 2 of This Weird Thing.

This may not be obvious to the normal grad student, but after a decade in a community of 1K-10K people, most of them working in groups, it becomes clear. The end result is that the last several top-tier conferences I reviewed for, I basically guessed the authors of all the papers I reviewed, and knew at least one of them personally on each paper. All of that, despite being a "young" member of the community.


> maybe not bloated fields like AI/HCI/graphics

Having reviewed papers in the 'bloated' graphics field at SIGGRAPH, yes, you can usually guess who wrote a particular paper.

> This may not be obvious to the normal grad student, but after a decade in a community of 1K-10K people

The communities are smaller than that. Within sub-fields in graphics, you usually have perhaps five or six research groups to guess from.


> The CS field gets a lot of bashing for gravitating a lot around conferences rather than journals. Because, you know, journals are supposed to be the serious venue for the grown-ups.

I just remember how my university, who had some standard and fairly comprehensive subscriptions to electronic IEEE and ACM journals, didn't get conference proceedings for some damn reason. From the critically-thinking student's point of view, conferences and journals look like two different ways of getting students to part with money with no recourse if the product happens to suck, as academic material so often does.


"From the critically-thinking student's point of view, conferences and journals look like two different ways of getting students to part with money with no recourse if the product happens to suck, as academic material so often does."

I can't speak to journals, but as someone who's been on both sides of IEEE conferences, that it absolutely true. I've seen conferences where almost none of the researchers showed up to talk about their work---the students had to get published to graduate, so they submitted, got accepted, paid their registration fees (literally, the most important step), and, badaboom, they were officially published.

My personal favorite was ICDCS '98[1], where early student conference registration included a copy of the proceedings, until you got to the conference, where you were informed that, of course students couldn't get free copies of the proceedings. What were you thinking?

[1] The conference had a serious hiccup, committee-wise, and had to change venues at the last moment, so....


Would you mind explaining the double-blind review in CS conferences? I'm a doctor by trade so am well acquainted with the way peer-review works but I've never heard of conferences being reviewed, either before-the-fact as an acceptance criterion or after-the-fact as a kind of rating.


CS conference papers go through the same process as a journal would in your field, but typically with only 1-2 revision cycles. The acceptance rates are much lower than journal because there are fewer retries, so people generally submit ready-to-publish work to conferences. Many researchers don't publish in journals at all, or just do it as a token activity.


In the context of peer review (at least in CS), "single-blind" means that the authors don't know who the reviewers are, and "double-blind" means that additionally, the reviewers don't know who the authors are.

Conferences with double-blind review require papers to be anonymized, avoiding any mentions of author names or affiliations in the PDF submitted for review, as well as other obvious elements that would reveal the identity of the authors (e.g. "As we showed in a previous paper [4], ...")


"..."single-blind" means that the authors don't know who the reviewers are..."

Technically, it means that the authors would have to do some minor text analysis to find out who the reviewers are; the only difficulty is that the comments can be a bit thin, but you've got plenty of known samples to measure against.


Posts like this (and there are many of them) scare me.

I'm in the latter half of a PhD. I love it. I work insane hours entirely out of my own choice, because it is the most rewarding and enjoyable thing I've ever been a part of.

The idea that I've found something that I love, that is challenging, that (I hope) I'm relatively good at, and that has a definite net positive good for us as a species/society, yet I may not be able to pursue this long term because of the immense challenges facing academia as a whole (catalyzed, I would argue, by tragic lack of funding) is really concerning, on both a personal and a societal level.


I am almost 2 years into my postdoc now. It's easy to be caught up in the academic bubble. Especially as a grad student. Things that are insignificant seems like a life or death decision for you. I know it is very difficult to get away from your work for various reasons, but taking a week off and completely get away from academia is extremely important. It gives you a better perspective on your work and your motivations.

I think most grad students towards the end go through a self-examination phase where they really think about whether their motivation for wanting to do this is internal or whether they were just caught up in the popular perception of the monk scientist who nobly advance human knowledge.


It depends a lot on who you're working for. You might think that every professor with interesting publications at a high-ranking institution is smart, interested in their work, and invested in the success of their students. Or at least, this is what I thought when I was an undergraduate, when I did some research with some really great people. Since then, I've realized that some people of these professors are not particularly interested in science, but have big egos and are particularly skilled at promoting themselves. They're at top institutions and they are thus able to attract lots of money and smart, hard-working students, but their intellectual contribution to their lab's work is relatively small and the environment they produce within their labs (and institutions) is pretty toxic.


"You might think that every professor is ... smart, interested in their work, and invested in the success of their students. Or ... are not particularly interested in science, but have big egos and are particularly skilled at promoting themselves."

In the first place, those two categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In the second, there are other kinds: some of the best scientists I know have essentially set up an assembly line: students are plopped on one end of the conveyor belt, papers are chiselled off of them just before the two major conference seasons of every year, and a skilled researcher is boxed at the end of the line and shipped off to a grateful academic or industrial research institution.

The principle scientists are great people, they do excellent work, their students are good and well taken-care-of, and no one really has any reason to complain.

The only down side is that the papers coming out are kind of incremental, given the schedule of publishing at conferences twice a year, and a student that goes in at the top of the machine is going to come out the bottom as a researcher on a particular topic. I have no idea how well they're doing, in aggregate, a few years after graduation.


For me it all changed as soon as the PhD ended. Suddenly the cost to employ you skyrockets, and it becomes apparent how few permanent positions there are relative to the applicant pool. My PhD was pretty great, but my experience afterwards was pretty depressing.


I received my Ph.D. a little over a decade ago. I didn't succeed in getting a research job outside of academia, and the bit over a decade that I spent in academia convinced me I didn't want to be a part of it. As a result, my fancy piece of paper sits, completely unused, in a closet.

Whenever someone points out that I wasted numerous years of my life with nothing to show for it but a low salary history, I have to admit that I absolutely do not regret getting a Ph.D. I loved the work, and I loved the process of doing the work. I'd do it again (if I didn't have to pay for it again---I worked full time during grad school, which I recommend no one do).

So, yeah, don't go for a Ph.D. in computer science unless you absolutely cannot not go for a Ph.D. in computer science. And then, don't expect it to pay off in any way.


"...it is the most rewarding and enjoyable thing I've ever been a part of."

That's your Achilles heel. Beware!


The system was sufficiently functional to nurture enough knowledge and enthusiasm in you that you were equipped to attend and thrive in a PhD program. On a societal level, I don't think academia's sorry state is much to worry about.

On a personal level, it's pretty terrible. If you do decide to leave academia, there are plenty of opportunities for smart, committed people. I bailed on a PhD program shortly after starting my dissertation, and having Ivy-league graduate work on my resume has opened a lot of doors.


> catalyzed, I would argue, by tragic lack of funding

No, you don't get it. There is tons of funding. But academia is a corrupt old-boys network. Those petty, conniving people rise to the top and ultimately control the system.

- A grad student (who regrets going to grad school)


From experience as a researcher in a country undergoing severe R&D funding cuts, I can tell you that the ones that are most likely to survive the lack of funding are the "corrupt old boys", who can exploit their contacts and their system-gaming skills to secure the little funding that remains. Promising young scientists that aren't under the wing of one of the old boys are much likely to suffer the raw end of the deal. Basically my perception is that the funding cuts made everything this article describes much more prevalent, not less.

So in my opinion, "catalyzed by tragic lack of funding" (note "catalyzed", not "caused") is a pretty accurate description.


"There is tons of funding."

I'd have to agree with this. With the possible exception of the cold war, in certain fields, there is more now than any time historically. Before WWII, "professional scientific research" was a pretty rare thing; certain large companies did it (out of which comes the "applied" and "pure" distinction in many older fields, I believe) and certain educational institutions (but most were essentially teaching gigs with a spare closet for lab space).

Now, there's lots of money, but lots of faces feeding at the trough, too. And lots of reasons why breeding more scientists who subsequently starve isn't going to stop.


Does that mean a lack of funding can't catalyze the issue?

Edit: Just for transparency (topical!) I did not downvote you, and totally agree that cronyism is a major (and yeah maybe causative) issue, but I also think the decision on how to fund is basically an entirely separate problem which really doesn't have an obviously good solution (in my mind).


Make the companies that profit from the research do the research themselves, in house, and pay for it and direct it themselves. That's the only way.

You can't set up academia as a soviet-style bureaucracy and expect it to perform any differently from a soviet-style bureaucracy.


But not all scientific research will benefit companies. Some will even be detrimental to large companies (disruptive technologies). Therefore blueskies pure science needs funding from some source other than industry.

What I do find disturbing is the trend to push University research towards immediately commercially viable stuff. Industry would/should do this stuff anyway.


What, like the pharmaceutical industry? I would argue that much good knowledge is created that way but it, too, has its issues. See much of Ben Goldacre's work.

http://www.badscience.net/


"I found scientists to be more preoccupied by their own survival in a very competitive research environment than by the development of a true understanding of the world."

I have found this as well. However it's important to remember that before one can do good work, one has to find funding for the good work. It's a complex problem.


People don't even understand how critical this problem is. I was previously working at a very good European medical lab. The environment was so weird most postdocs simply spent 95% of their time playing the ladder-climbing game. Some got incredible promotions, like getting all the way from postdoc -> assistant prof. -> asociate prof. in 3 years after ending their PhD with no decent publications at all.

It's not even publishing crap. It's that these places develop into odd little societies that end up resembling Orwell's Animal Farm.

Obviously, this very good lab is collapsing. I have moved to Oxbridge now and things are much better. Sad to see so many cancer research Euros wasted.


That's a pretty good 3-sentence summary - reflects my experience as well.

To expand a bit...it's not that nearly everyone doesn't start out super excited about their subjects and motivated by advancing human knowledge. It's that shortly post-PhD, you realize that in order to continue doing this work you find exciting and meaningful, you have to get money (for supplies, equipment, office space, not to mention your own salary), and the funding system is inherently kind of broken. It's not just the disappearance of tenure-track jobs. To caricature somewhat:

1. Funding is limited - grant success rates in my field are currently 10% to 15% - and in order to have a chance you need some history of having done interesting work, the more the better.

2. To carry out more of your ideas (to maximize the chances that some of them will turn out to be very interesting, as well as the overall amount and speed of work) you typically need more manpower than just yourself. You may also need equipment and people to operate it. Since you're probably a bit short of money, you hire trainees (students or postdocs), who cost less. Now you are really feeling the funding pressure since their livelihoods, not only your own, depend on your getting enough funds.

3. Eventually those trainees graduate, or become senior. Now they need to apply for their own grants and you need to find new trainees. In other words, the process of science today inherently increases the number of scientists competing for funding, and because each scientist during a single career typically requires many trainees, this number increases exponentially. There is no way the research funding budget can increase that fast over the long term.

4. The constantly increasing funding pressure means more and more people become preoccupied with their own survival above most any other professional concern. In addition to politics and ladder climbing, it hurts the science directly: if some project's not likely to get future funding, you might feel you don't have time for it, even if that's what interests you most about your area.

It's a hard problem...my impression is the reforms needed would be so sweeping that I'm not sure anyone has a complete picture of what things to do instead, let alone implement them.


I propose one simple reform. The grant-giving institutions are currently (in the aggregate) spending $X of money per year to pay the salary of various people. Some of these people are employed as tenured professors, some as non-yet-tenured tenure track professors, some as postdocs, some as students. The salary of the postdocs and students (if any) is coming entirely from the $X, the salary of the professors is coming partly from interest on the schools' endowments. The number of postdocs and students is (almost) directly proportional to $X.

The proposal: the grant-giving institution instead earmark Z% of $X for endowing new tenured professor chairs at the schools.

This reduces the ratio of (postdocs + students) per professor. In the extreme case, if all institutions set Z=100%, there would be only professors and no students or postdocs; the number of professors would be less than the number of professors+postdocs+students is today, but this number would be growing at a substantially faster rate (there will be some critical value of Z, large but <100%, such that the the number of students funded is roughly equal to or slightly greater than the replacement rate of retiring professors). Note that this is not all-or-nothing; you can incrementally convince one grant-giving institution at a time to implement this reform, with Z set at various levels, and see incremental benefits.


"Of course, this does not mean that I will abandon all of my activities related to the search or dissemination of knowledge. I will still teach my courses in Biology and Artificial Intelligence at the University of the People, I will still publish my book, The Revolutionary Phenotype, which contains an important novel theory on the emergence of life. I will still publish the Season 2 of NEURO.tv, for which we have gathered amazing guests. I will still go talk science and have fun with the Drunken Peasants. In fact, my leave will likely give me more time to concentrate on these important activities. The reality is that throughout the years, my attention has drifted away from research academia, because I found other ways to satisfy my scientific curiosity that seemed more appealing and more genuine to me."

"There is a general rejection of these alternative paths to knowledge dissemination in academia, but I have grown out of caring about it. Selling knowledge and prestige are the bread and butter of universities, so we should not be surprised to see the main recipients of the flow of money coming from well-wishing parents and governmental funding agencies dismiss the validity of other, less socially costly paths to knowledge dissemination."

Seems like he's found other more effective ways for him and for others learning than to do more of the "good work"[0].

[0] "…produce multiple scientific articles per year, none of which having any significant impact on our understanding of the world, similarly to how a chicken who's head has been cut can still walk, but not toward any sort of goal. This issue reveals itself in a series of noxious conditions that are affecting me and my colleagues: a high number of scientific articles with fraudulent data due to the pressures of the "publish or perish" system makes it impossible to know if a recent discovery is true or not; a large portion of the time of a scientist is spent just writing grants so that they can be submitted to 5-10 agencies in the hope that one of them will accept; and a scientific publication system that has become so corrupted that it is almost impossible to get a scientific article published without talking one-on-one with the editor before submitting the article."


It's not fair to twist people's words like that. If the poster meant churning out papers by "good work" then the whole post would not make sense. A much more reasonable interpretation would be "in order to produce good papers, or things that are less rewarded (e.g. books), one needs to play the academic game in the meantime and churn out mediocre/bad papers".

The main issue as I see it is not that good papers are not rewarded, but rather that bad/mediocre papers are rewarded far more than they deserve. This means that the incentive to work hard on a breakthrough is diminished.


The focus on good papers vs bad papers as the problem seems silly to me in comparison to the multiple ways knowledge can be disseminated and built upon in ways that the author cites that proven for him to be more effective along the dimensions he and his audience values (satisfying intellectual curiosity, helping others learn who aren't involved with/or not interested [possibly because of the very low signal to noise] in the "good/bad papers system", lower social costs, etc…).


They can go work elsewhere. Part of the problem is that academic pipelines are clogged with too many PhDs who are not motivated by scientific curiosity.


I think that is completely false. Why would you go into a career with little prospects for a permanent job that if you get it might pay half of what you could get elsewhere if not for scientific curiosity and the desire to make a difference in students' lives?

The problem is, like this article alludes to, that the field does not reward scientific curiosity or even serious scientific advancement.


For many students, the answer is "to get a visa to move to a first-world country".

If you're a smart first-worlder, there's many careers more lucrative than scientific research, so you'd only go into it because of passion. But if you're a smart third-worlder, a scientific career is often your best shot at emigrating to a rich country, so it becomes rational to do it whether you're passionate or not.


Scientific curiosity in itself is not something that should be rewarded.


Not pursuing a project that’s too risky, is not using the latest tools, and might not get you published in Cell/Science/Nature is all about scientific curiosity. Please. Such b/s.


Its a simple problem; that three-sentence description was a pretty good start.

The problem is made harder by the near-extinction of tenure-track positions. Colleges are using adjuct-profressors exclusively now, because they are cheap, plentiful and hungry. The search for knowledge has turned into a mill to train people and get a paycheck.


The misinformation about adjuncts is pretty widespread. Adjuncts have indeed been hired way more at teaching colleges and for-profit colleges. But research universities haven't really changed their hiring tendencies much, if at all. It's just that there are a lot more non-R1 universities now that statistically, a higher % of new instructors are adjuncts.

Nearly everyone I know that graduated with a PhD from an R1 universities, and was what I considered reasonably good (they were not complete goof-offs and were serious about their work) got good tenure-track positions 0-2 years after graduating.


Nearly everyone I know that graduated with a PhD from an R1 universities

Would these people perhaps be clustered in a particular field? I'd guess that things are very different depending on the percentage of PhD's in a field who go into academia versus industry. For example, the academic job market for Astronomy is very different than CS, because there are many more non-academic options for CS graduates.

I think even an outstanding Astronomy PhD from a top tier university may find it difficult to get a tenure track position in their field. The same would probably be true for CS if all the graduates were to pursue academic positions, but since many go into industry, there is less competition for tenure track positions among those who want to teach.


Not necessarily a good example. Astronomy has that weird, assassination-based promotion system.


Nice Tycho Brahe reference.


In astronomy I've always heard the rule of 10s.

10% of astronomers get the PhD, 10% of the PhDs get post docs, 10% of post docs get tenure.

And tenure in 0-2 years? That's impossible outside of China or India or the Soviet bloc. I think the average amount of time an Astronomer spends in post-docs is 9-12 years.


AFAIK, tenure in 0-2 years is difficult even in India.


For years fulltime profs number < 25%. This article (with refs) shows that essentially all tenture-track professors are over 60: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professors_in_the_United_State...


That Wikipedia page is the most hilarious wtf I have ever seen. I did not see this "< 25%" number you mention, but I read that "In 2011, a survey conducted by TIAA-CREF Institute senior researcher Paul J. Yakoboski estimated that 73% of professors with senior tenure ranged between the ages of 60 and 66 and that the remaining 27% were above the age of 66."

Then I read the reference and it said "To this end, the TIAA-CREF Institute surveyed full-time college and university faculty age 60 and older regarding issues related to whether and when to retire." The survey is about seniors (in terms of age) because TIAA-CREF is a retirement account company, not "senior tenure" whatever that means. I'm actually more surprised that the number of professors over 60 is not 100% since that's the only population surveyed.

The rest of the Wikipedia page is similarly biased, "Today (2015), adjunct professors, hired for their low cost only, rather than expertise, make up more than half the teaching faculty at United States universities." I can't tell if the Wikipedia article is intentionally ridiculous or if it's some parody article.


This article speaks to me of the most destructive force in our human world: the social collective. It seems that the majority of his ills are sourced directly from the dire circumstances of the mass collective operating on itself in a negative way - that there is something broken in the peer-acceptance process; perhaps it is indeed impossible to advance science without disassociation from the collective reality of all scientists, who - psycho-socially - desire to attain a social goal as an imperative before any kind of natural observation or 'progress' otherwise; i.e. the complaints of the author would be best addressed to nobody in particular; it is the fact of the anonymous-crowd-mass which produces the conditions degrading science, today. There are simply too many social machinations in play. The desire for acceptance at a banal level (grant money), the desire for acclaim at a banal level (peer review), the desire to be heard above the din of the masses, at a most banal level (publication requirements) - all of these banal instincts have accrued much caché in the zeitgeist as reasons for doing things.

tl;dr sometimes you have to shake the sheets if you want to get a good sail on. No great explorer, adventurer, discoverer, scientist, engineer .. ever .. got that way because they followed the processes of the status quo. The fact that many of us must discover, and learn to stomach: life is not special for a majority of people. That includes scientists. It includes people who think they deserve otherwise. If you want to exceed and excel, propel the species forward: beware the collective. It will eat you.


As someone who completed a PhD and knows many people who went on to academic positions, there tend to be three stages for people who come to accept the status quo.

1. A desire to make big breakthroughs in the field.

2. A frustration with the slow progress being made in the field, the apparent inability of the field to produce big breakthroughs, and the proliferation of papers whose net contribution to knowledge is small or zero.

3. An acceptance that the stagnation in the field is (1) partly an artifact of it being hard to recognize progress when it is happening and (2) a consequence of the fundamental nature of the discipline, e.g. all the simple elegant theories have been explored already.

It's not that there are not problems in academia, but most academics (at least in my field) don't consider these to be a major barrier to progress. I was particularly wary of the claim:

I will still publish my book, The Revolutionary Phenotype, which contains an important novel theory on the emergence of life.

Surely a novel theory on the emergence of life would be of great interest in the field? At worst I imagine you would have to dress it up in some mathematical model.

EDIT: I found a chapter from a previous version of the book in progress here: http://themoralsignal.com/TheMoralSignal%20-%20Chapter%201.p... readers can judge for themselves, but it didn't strike me as work that academia would be foolish for ignoring.


I don't really see, what people mean when they "agree" or "disagree" with this article and the likes of it. Aside of expressing his own disappointment the author points out what is wrong with the academic research, that's true. But point out what is wrong, though isn't useless, is a lot easier than suggest (even pretty lousy) better alternative.

It's easy to imagine how everyone should be free to explore whatever he wants in his own free time, with his own money, at his own home lab (although even this isn't true, because currently even the most basic stuff needed for research in chemistry or biology is illegal to freely buy and sell, as it can be used to produce drugs or bombs or because of some other "national security" bullshit). But what the author is talking about isn't his own time and money — it's expecting to be provided with all stuff he needs for research and for him to live and prosper. And if someone is about to give you all that, your promise that you'll discover something great eventually isn't really enough for him. Quite understandably so. So ideally he would like to make sure that you, both: won't use all money and lab equipment that's given to you to smoke crack and do nothing; and that you are actually able to discover something great. Which, I guess, even you yourself won't promise, because you don't know.

So, in fact, even with all that bureaucracy we cannot have any guarantees. And author wants for the system not only to work, but to work without putting too much pressure on him and his colleagues. How he imagines that? He doesn't explain clearly enough.


The problem is that excessive competition in a system originally designed to ensure research money was spent well, is now actually causing the money to be spent badly. Asking for concrete suggestions for improvement is perfectly fair. Here are two things that could be done that would help.

First, ideally, flood the system with money, fund science the way it should be funded, as though it actually mattered as much as entertainment or killing people. Again, providing ten times as much money would produce more and better science per dollar not just in total.

Second, failing that, filter PhD applicants by random lottery; discard a randomly selected 80% or however many it takes, before moving forward as currently.


Usually we only hear this from the disgruntled. It is valuable to hear this perspective from someone who perceives themselves as happy and successful.

> because I know how they were obtained.

This is similar to one of the reasons I left graduate school.

I realized that everyone who plays ball and puts in the hours gets a PhD. And I saw incomprehensible postdoc hires. Lots of things didn't even look like significant accomplishments (or even all that hard, and I'm no rockstar).


Years ago, like 1999 or so, I chaired a Linux conference. The Usenix people wanted me to fold Linux into Usenix and thought (probably mistakenly) that I could bring those people to Usenix.

I said sure on condition: all papers are blind reviewed going forward. No authors, nothing that could identify the authors in the papers until they are accepted.

Usenix flat out refused. Which sort of backs up what this guy is saying. Sad state of affairs.


This is a sentiment I've heard from a lot of my friends in academia.

I hope the author isn't also similar to those friends of mine in another way: assuming that the marketing job that private industry has done when comparing themselves to academia is true. That things are more rational and productive outside academia. That they won't just enter another game played by chickens with no heads that has slightly different rules. That they won't spend most of their time doing useless bullshit that the system demands they produce even though it does nothing to further the goals they are supposed to be advancing.

I liked the piece, so I do hope the author ends up preferring the different kind of pointless make-work the alternatives provide him.


I feel the same thing in huge companies in which the employees are insulated from market forces. Aren't we supposed to be, like, building stuff that users want? Rather than just trying to get promoted and game the system?

IQ and motivation are independent variables... it's a shame when people with high IQs exert tons of effort in small-minded directions, or just toward fighting each other.


>"Aren't we supposed to be, like, building stuff that users want? Rather than just trying to get promoted and game the system?"

That's the company's job, not yours.

In fact, you are actually already doing it if you twist definitions a bit. The "user" is the company you work for, and you are the product. And you "gaming" the corporate-ladder system is you simply marketing the product (yourself) to your user/client so that they pay you more for it.

The beauty of it is that the emergent behavior of those combined two agents yields a net positive for society. Do not be fooled into thinking that only "noble" academia is the way to advance humankind.


No. Absolutely no. A net positive is not being realized for humanity when you consider all the factors in this type of behavior. What this is a wasteful process of leaching excessive production into the bank accounts of people pretending to be productively engaged.

I have to agree with OP. Far too many big companies are busy trying to figure out how to game the system and cheat the consumers and have become filled with ladder climbers who have long since lost sight of the original mandate assigned to them by the system. This probably won't last very long historically speaking and it might not end well either. It's unbalanced, unjust, corrupt and just plain wrong.

Incidentally, the companies job is OP's job. Companies don't exist without people.


Another possible (unspoken) reason why Gariépy is resigning is presumably that he's been a postdoc[0] for the last 3-4 years[1]. Unfortunately, the nature of modern biomedical research is such that you need an army of researchers to do the mechanical grunt work at the lab bench that leads to papers. This has led to a glut of postdocs, who are underpaid, overworked, and have little hope of ever obtaining a permanent academic position[2]. And even at top universities, industry positions are quite difficult to get without putting time and effort that you don't have to spare into extensive networking[3].

During his postdoc, Gariépy's had one second-author publication in Nature Neuroscience[4], which probably wasn't enough to get a tenure-track professorship. If, like the first author on that paper, he had gotten an assistant professorship at a prestigious university[5], he probably wouldn't be airing his dirty laundry. Also note that he is a YouTuber[6] and has a book coming out according to his Twitter profile[7], so he's probably trying to leverage any notoriety he gets from ragequitting his postdoc to jumpstart his career in science journalism.

0: http://today.duke.edu/node/132805

1: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeanfrancoisgariepy

2: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/10/04/glut-postdoc-re...

3: https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/09/02/cambridge-pl...

4: http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v16/n2/abs/nn.3287.html

5: https://medicine.yale.edu/neuroscience/people/steve_chang.pr...

6: http://neuro.tv/

7: https://twitter.com/JFGariepy


I downvoted this and I wanted to say why. It reads to me like a (perhaps well-researched) ad-hominem attack. Rather than speaking to the points raised by the post, you attempt to undermine the person who posted it.


I'm not undermining him at all, I'm simply sharing the broader context behind him resigning, which he omitted from his post. Even though he may not have been academically successful, it looks like he's got the street smarts necessary to make it in the real world, which you definitely can't say for many of the postdocs trapped in academia. And having seen some of the utterly ignorant comments people make online (including on HN) and in person about the biomedical sciences, we could use more people who both understand the science and can communicate it to the broader public.


It reads to me not so much as an ad hominem as an explanation of why he sounds so bitter towards academia. "He's only had one second author pub" is, almost unequivocally, a statement that he hasn't been academically successful. Maybe it's because he's not good at science, maybe he's not good at gaming the system around science, but something is off. Without hearing him talk about his work in something like a seminar (and being fairly familiar with his specialty, which I am not), it's really hard to say. I won't argue that the publishing system is perfect, but in my experience, it's really not "corrupted" in any meaningful sense of the word, and that good work will find a venue (even if not a glam journal).

I think really the point that the GP is raising is that, protestations to the contrary aside, the OP really is bitter. Maybe they are truly disillusioned by the system around science, but such a critique does hold more weight coming from someone who has done well.


I think that it's fair to analyse the author's success or lack thereof, because he relies on this as part of his argument, e.g.

My friends have also pointed out that I should not be "discouraged" by the difficulties faced as a scientist, that I should continue to "fight." Again, they are wrong; discouragements due to failures have never kept me down. I have never been afraid of failures and of retrying, and retrying again; my scientific successes are what discouraged me, because I know how they were obtained

I will still publish my book, The Revolutionary Phenotype, which contains an important novel theory on the emergence of life

The author's argument rests on both his success in academia in spite of its unfairness, but even more importantly, it relies on his claims to have found more fruitful pursuits outside academia. I don't think anyone really considers how personally fulfilling these pursuits to be to be an important issue, but rather whether he is actually correct that these pursuits are more valuable to society than academia.


Actually, you're ignoring the author. He said that his publication successes drove him away from the system:

    I have never been afraid of failures and of retrying, and retrying again;
    my scientific successes are what discouraged me, because I know how they
    were obtained.

    My most important scientific articles were accepted in major journals
    because the editors had a favorable prejudice toward me or my co-authors;
    because I was insuring that I had a discussion with them before I submitted;
    or because the reviewers they chose happened to be close colleagues.
You presume that he wouldn't "air dirty laundry" if he got a tenure-track position. But this ignores what he just said! Every academic success he achieved made him discouraged and want to leave. You aren't listening to him.

Why do you call this "dirty laundry"? He addresses that too:

    Some of my best friends at Duke have told me that I sounded "bitter" when I
    expressed these concerns. I insure you that I am not and that I am writing
    these lines with the nonchalance and bliss of a man who has found other ways
    to be happy and to satisfy his own scientific curiosity.
You aren't listening to him.

Look, every time an academic leaves, the existing academics try to point out his lack of career success. It makes it easier for you to dismiss him.

But that train of thought is flawed. By simple logic, the honest participants in corrupt systems WILL fail to succeed. These are the people to listen to! The honest scientists, with sound arguments, and poor publication records.


> You aren't listening to him.

That's right, rather than taking his words at face value, I investigated the facts that he omitted from his narrative. They tell a slightly different story.

None of that means that I don't share his opinions about the state of academic science.


I love new information, but your narrative conflicts with the existing facts:

     - He is not bitter
     - He did not leave because of failure
Now it appears you aren't listening to me, because I've had to write this twice.


Those "facts" are provided by the narrator himself. Unless you have some kind of psychic bond with the narrator, or can argue a priori why the phenomenon of "unreliable narrator" simply does not apply here, then these facts don't really address w1ntermute's line of argument.


That's not factual evidence, that's a subjective narrative that he's constructed, one which the factual evidence contradicts. The one who actually isn't listening in this situation is you, because I've also had to state this twice.


Feelings are not subjective narratives; especially if you're a neuroscientist. They are physiological, measurable, and observable.

When the author says he does not feel bitter, it is an account on his physiological state. Are you calling him a liar?

When the author says he felt discouraged after success, that is a report on an empirical phenomenon. Do you believe he is lying?

If you think he's lying, then you don't trust him. Maybe you don't trust him because you only trust people who publish a lot. Shame on you.


> Feelings are not subjective narratives; especially if you're a neuroscientist. They are physiological, measurable, and observable.

Ah yes, because his post consisted of statistically rigorous measurements of his mental state to back up his statements, rather than a polemic against the nature of the academic system. Now, in which figure in his post did you see a plot of those measurements of his feelings, again? I'm having a little difficulty locating it.

> When the author says he felt discouraged after success, that is a report on an empirical phenomenon. Do you believe he is lying?

He does not have significant academic success to speak of, so his statement doesn't make logical sense. That's all I'm saying. Resorting to strawmen like claiming I believe he's lying or that I don't trust him detracts from the credibility of your argument.


Interesting how "bitter" is important. Is it academia's codeword for unprofessionalism? A claim that someone lacks objectivity because their meatbody generated emotion along with reason?

(Was Newton any less of a scientist for often being "bitter"?)


Perhaps I may bring some enlightenment here, I'm JF, the guy who wrote the article, and I do have psychic access to my own mind.

Everything is true in what both of you are saying. The original claim that my postdoc was ending anyway is true. But I did not fail to get enough publications to continue. I would have had opportunities to be employed and finish many more papers (in fact I was begged to choose to do so), but refused.

The fact that I have decided to synchronize my leave of academia with the ending of my postdoc, however, does not change what I express on my Facebook post, which was genuine. I am not bitter and I do not consider myself an unsuccessful scientist at all. In my country and in many universities, I see people being hired at a professor position with a C.V. much less populated than mine; so the option was certainly not out. On top of it, if I hadn't had the intent to leave, I certainly could have used my data in the last year to get anywhere from 1 to 4 more publications. I have handed all my data to students in the lab and chose to refuse to continue working on it despite a request from my PI (I actually made a joke and said that I could continue academia if he paid me $50,000 per month).

None of you are wrong; one just has to be careful with interpretations. Thanks for the person who defended the actual reading of my text rather than presumptuous extrapolations.


I think he is a rebellious entrepreneur who found himself confined in a space that does not align with who he is. I have been in his shoe and can clearly see why he chose to write that. He could have quietly vanished and worked as a 'research assistant' or some low level job at a biotech company (cuz he doesn't have the relevant work experience) or perhaps (like a friend of mine with 4 publications) in a janitorial wholesale place. But he is a fighter and I wish him the best in whatever journey he is going to embark on.

As a post doc, it becomes extremely hard to switch career and this guy is struggling to make sense of his life, especially now that he is going to be a father.

circRNA guys who posted on HN, should hire him.


From Pubmed, it appears that since 2007, he published 6 papers in one lab (likely his Ph.D. lab), including a first author in PNAS, and 4 papers in a second lab since 2013, including the Nat. Neurosci. paper you cite, where he is one of 3 authors.

It isn't a terrible publication record. One would have to know the significance of what he did publish in order to judge properly.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Gariepy%20JF[auth]


> 4 papers in a second lab since 2013

Out of those 4 papers in his postdoc lab, two are reviews[0,1] and one is a peer commentary[2], so only the second-author paper I linked before counts as original research.

Similarly, one of his (three) first-author publications from his PhD lab is also a review[3]. He does have two first-author publications from that lab, including one in PNAS[4], but neither of them seem to have been cited that much. In any case, you can't coast on your PhD publication record once you've been a postdoc for several years.

0: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nyas.12315/abstra...

1: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnins.2014.00...

2: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPag...

3: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21111208

4: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/2/E84.long


There are only 3 authors on the Nat. Neurosci. paper, so he likely spent a large amount of his time working on this project. So it would be a bit unfair to compare his output in that lab to that of the first author of the same paper.

Metrics are fine and all, but rarely tell the full picture. Not that I know what the full picture really looks like in this case...


The Nat. Neurosci. paper lists author contributions at the bottom (Gariépy is J.F.G).

> S.W.C.C and M.L.P. designed the research and wrote the paper. S.W.C.C. and J.F.G. performed the research and S.W.C.C analyzed the data.


Quite. He performed the research, but it doesn't indicate whether he spent 2 years doing mostly this, or did just one of the experiments over a few weeks... Similarly for the first author.


I am sure his reason for leaving academia is multi-faceted. His publication record (it's not that bad really. Maybe not competitive enough for a tenure track position) and his other scientific communication activities probably are part of it. But I don't think it detracts from his complaints about academia.


> I am sure his reason for leaving academia is multi-faceted.

Oh, absolutely. Another reason that I didn't include in my OP is that he got his Green Card on August 3rd[0], which probably opened up a lot of options that he didn't have before, at least if he wanted to stay in the country. Many postdocs do not have the luxury of a Green Card and its attendant freedom.

0: https://www.facebook.com/jfgariepyneuro/posts/45540339129802...


Or, hoping that his YouTube and authorial notoriety will pay for his ramen noodles after he ragequits.

There is a charitable way of looking at the same data.


Given that he's quitting academia to become a stay-at-home dad (along with his YouTube/book endeavors), it's highly likely that his wife has a more remunerative profession than he does, and that that reality also figured into his decision. I doubt that affording basic necessities will be a concern of his.


You can say that. But, he's still right.


Not the OP, but of course he's right. On the other hand, there is bit of a different between one of the princes of the kingdom abdicating his title while leaving the kingdom and a common person leaving the kingdom.

Grant writing is a very painful form of writing and I have relatives that have made good money by being good at it[1]. I do believe it would be tough to do research and put the time in to be an acceptable grant writer. Something has got to give.

1) for those writing grant to certain government agencies, yeah, there is an old-boys/girls-club and using an "out" word in your grant is a killer (I've drank a lot of beer over the evolution of the word 'empowerment'). One tip my aunt told me is to volunteer to be a grant reader in DC. You see what everyone else is writing, know why things got accepted, and meet the people in charge.


>Grant writing is a very painful form of writing and I have relatives that have made good money by being good at it[1]. I do believe it would be tough to do research and put the time in to be an acceptable grant writer. Something has got to give.

I have tenured professor relatives and the thing that usually "gives" is the time spent on the actual research. From what I can see they spend a little time teaching, a little time managing grad students, and a lot of time grubbing for grants. I don't consider them scientists at all - they're middle managers.

It's an enormous waste of talent.


I work as a researcher in a grant funded lab, I can see where this post is coming from. There is a lot of needless politics in academia, and often the right things are not rewarded. However no matter what set of actions you choose to reward, people will find a way to game that system.

The criticism in this post, while at least partly true, is too cynical to make a difference in any way. Sure, there are a lot of poor and useless papers published and terrible labs in the US University research system, but the search for knowledge is moving undeniably forward under this system.


I keep hearing about how miserable things are in academia and have come to perhaps a surprising conclusion: research and education need to be broken up. I know that there's arguments that the two should stay entangled, and that new research feeds quickly into education blah blah blah. But I personally think that the world is far better off with large, dedicated, quasi-commercial R&D labs and institutions like Xerox-Parc, Bell Labs, Howard Hughes Medical, Battelle, Microsoft Research etc. and that those research labs operate off of a "licensed innovation" model.

It feels like these places are struggling (I might be wrong), but I'd argue for a vast expansion of this system on par with the university system, but without either being burdened by the needs of either one. Offer competitive industry pay and work on demand for commercial and public interest.

A kind of kernel of this already exists, either big National Labs that try to spin out mature research paths into companies (giving the researches a shot at making it big as CEO or CTO of these new companies) or as dedicated commercial R&D firms that get hired to produce product ideas for commercialization. But I think it should be institutionalized in the same way universities are rather than running as independent as they do now. And then universities should get out of the research game altogether.

I don't have real concrete ideas on how this should be done, but it would provide a better career track for smart people.


"I know that there's arguments that the two should stay entangled..."

I've just got one, but it's pretty compelling: the best instructors I've seen have been researchers teaching about the subject they're researching. That might be an introductory, undergraduate AI class taught by a senior AI researcher, or a new faculty member effectively teaching about his dissertation topic.

Sure, I've seen plenty of researchers who made bad instructors, but I've seen many more instructional faculty who not only didn't care about teaching but also didn't know the basics of their subject.


I'm not sure that it's not possible for top rate researches to teach at attached universities if they care to. There's plenty of professionals who work in the commercial world and teach a class or two a semester because they love it but hate working in the academic world -- I work with two PhDs who do exactly that.

Anecdotally, many of the worst teachers I had were researchers in their field. It was clear that they wanted to just research in their field and teaching was something the school forced them into doing and they did the bare minimum.


I've noticed that a few research professors have struggled to teach courses. It's not a problem of being unable to convey the information (since CS is conference-heavy in publications, you can't become a good researcher without getting good at presenting), but rather that they can't write do homework assignments or tests very well.


Imo at least the following important subjects would be too unprofitable for industrial research labs: philosophy, pure mathematics, particle physics, astrophysics, religious studies, philology, history, anthropology.


This might be useful for postdocs, but remember that the PhD degree is a research degree. Therefore, academia has to have some kind of research available for people to do. Assuming that the typical PhD in Chemistry anyway takes 4-6 years based on topic and level of support. The first two years are coursework and other prep work for entering the actual research process. Semester #5 is the prelim, which is the entry exam. The next 2-3 semesters are the golden time when other interests fall away, work progresses and the material that justifies the PhD gets done. After that comes writing up and doing whatever odds and ends the boss wants done or wants done to expand/round-out the dissertation or whatever.

It's possible that lab-based PhD's take longer because the reactions have to work and yield the desired product. Also, a lot will depend on how often the student's in the lab (reactions have to be worked up, machine time has to be found, etc). Run 2x vs 1x daily has a direct impact on time-in-process. Fortunately, the non-lab PhD's can work pretty much anywhere as modern laptops are either sufficient or work well as front-ends to compute resources.

The end result of this is 3-7 papers, which will be "stapled together" to make the dissertation. The work has to be "novel", and some people are lucky/good enough to produce something that's a win. Note that some of the best ideas in the field (possibly any field) come from 2-4th year grad students who don't know or care they're wrong... Oh, they might produce some code throughout this process, or some groups maintain a code base that pretty much every student contributes to (such as QM groups).

Coming out of this process, the newly-minted PhD is now capable of doing an academic postdoc to either round out their training or start the path towards an academic position. Or, they can do an industrial postdoc or go directly into pharma or biotech (or the various support companies doing chemistry, software or whatever supporting these two areas). Think of the PhD as a union card, certifying the holder as being (vaguely?) capable of independent, organized work. Lab PhD's typically post-doc with the "other half" of their discipline: come out as a synthetic PhD, go work for a natural product group, etc.

Once in pharma, they face a 3-6 year period where they're to learn various aspects of the medicinal chemistry process. They start as pairs of hands and end up, hopefully, as somebody who can run with at least part of a drug design or development project. Academia, for the most part, lacks the money or interest for this part of the training process - it's applied research with an eye towards the big return, and IP issues prevent publishing until projects die or go into the market.

I suspect physics PhD's might have similar timelines, possibly delayed if they have to build their apparatus (or wait for time at CERN). I've heard that UK PhD's get through quicker, and it's possible European PhD's get through a little slower than North American due to a better funding environment? I've no understand of the schedule for things like Biology or Medical-related PhD's as that's totally outside my experience (personal and professional). Might be slower as the mice/cells/whatever can up and die on them.

To close this spiel, while research labs have always provided a place for PhD's to go work (and still do), there's always problems due to security, funding, etc. If there was more money available, we'd end up with a better crop of postdocs and probably young professors with better home lives but that doesn't seem to be the trend of things right now. Given all the uncertainty over funding, finding a position, avoiding layoff/outsoucing/offshoring, ... I can see why people aren't interested in going this route.

Those that do either have a "cause" they wish to follow/fulfill or they're really interested in the subject matter and want to take it farther than one can do with courses. If people want the $$, they'll do far better managing or funding people like I've described than being one.


I will give an example how the system is broken. I am a masters student, and my advisor assigns me full reviews without even asking, in the fields that I do not even understand anything a little bit, not even in my area. I review them for him. Some dude's approval to a conference is at my hands. I do not feel in any position to review most of the papers I have been given and talking to my advisor does not help. So, I just accept them all if they do not have major style issues, and that's it.


Do what I did (unintentionally): suggest that they reject a major, name, researcher's paper because it's an unintelligible mess with no real results. I never had to review a paper again.

Which is kind of a pity. I liked doing that, including learning enough about the topic to make something like intelligent comments.


Every single Ph.D. on my data science team has pretty much said the same thing (independently). The way I put it: Academic science is a branch of the entertainment industry in a socialist sub-economy.


Relevant one-page article: "On “Write-Only” Conferences" - http://www.mit.edu/~irahwan/docs/IEEE-IS_letter2007.pdf

(conferences in exotic locations for which you only need to submit an article to attend)


I don't quite get that letter. The IEEE has plenty of write-only conferences that are not in scenic locales; anyone who actually goes doesn't even get a good vacation, so no one actually attends. But it's still a publication.



FWIW, I have a PhD and spent five years as an assistant professor. I then went on to take a different job as a lecturer for a few years before leaving academia completely. The general complaint JF raised rings true. In my field (learning sciences), there was a TON of jank publications. The majority of the published work still is stuff that exists solely to increment the author's publication count. The term "least publishable unit" was used unironically.

The focus is flawed. There is still a lot of good work being done in the system, but that work is really only 10% of the work that is done. I had to choose between artificially inflating my pub count and not making tenure. In the end, I decided to walk away - I personally don't have the kind of perseverance necessary for that.

Of course, I now make significantly more money and am actually appreciated by my colleagues (rather than viewed as competition), and still get to contribute real work in the field in a private sector nonprofit instead. And I get to program too (in LS at least it was all publications, the software you created didnt count for anything.)


Something like 90% of people working in academia have pretty much the same opinion. This isn't anything that hasn't been said a thousand times over already.

The real question is how do we solve it? I've seen tons of people complain about the state of academia (myself included), but I have yet to see a workable solution to the problem.


There are quite a few options that have been proposed, the real problem is we are not applying science to solving it. We need to do the studies to find out what maximises quality scientific output and then scale out. The reason this is not done is the people at the top think the current system is working well, for them.


My biggest concern with this is that it devalues education even further.

Many potential/current/former students are questioning the value of higher education.

If you cannot trust the researchers, then how can anything be trusted? If it's just one big good-old-boy system, what's the point?


Science is in trouble. Before long we'll owe an apology to medieval astrologers and barbers.

What’s wrong with Science (http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/2159154...)

How science goes wrong (http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21588069-scientific-re...)

I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss Here's How. (http://io9.com/i-fooled-millions-into-thinking-chocolate-hel...)

How computer-generated fake papers are flooding academia (http://www.theguardian.com/technology/shortcuts/2014/feb/26/...)

Bad Science – Study on Gay Marriage Was Fake, Gets Retracted (http://www.zmescience.com/science/bad-science-michael-lacour...)

Some Online Journals Will Publish Fake Science, For A Fee (http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/10/03/22885995...)

The Mind of a Con Man (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/magazine/diederik-stapels-...)

Why Biomedical Research Has A Reproducibility Problem (http://footnote1.com/why-biomedical-research-has-a-reproduci...)

I could go on but...you know...Google.


Looks like it's a good time to start automating scientific research...


I almost did a Ph.D.

Luckily, my prof and I didn't get along too well, and I escaped with just a Master's degree.

To this day, my prof doesn't list me in his page (all other students before and after me are listed, and the lone publication I have with him is listed too).


I hear that a lot. It kind of made me certain that I don't want to go for a PhD.

I also frequently hear that it was a great time and that people should do it (very shortly summed up) "if they love science". But to be honest, there is a lot of people who are researchers and scientists without ever getting any kind of degree. Okay, not a lot as in the majority, but enough to be aware that it is valid to write papers, etc. and be accepted in research communities. I am not saying it is easy and it probably is way, way more unlikely, but then this sounds a lot like "if you really love science".

I also agree that the utility part will probably be harder, so it may depend a lot on what you study.

Those are all my assumptions, based on the things I heard. They are not really statements. I really want to hear what others think about that and especially where I am awfully wrong.


Cannot agree with him more, on every words from this post. Using just the publication score as the measurement on the scientific research is actually killing the entire field.


I'm assuming that he'll be recruited by Google next.


I am somewhat ignorant. What significant achievements does Dawkins hold in his field? All I know is that he's known for trying to convince others of his beliefs.




This is something thar is echoed all the time and it does not seem to be something limited or confined to academia, whoch makes it all the more unfortunate.


Seems like the inevitable result of forcing scientists to be competitive in an activity which is inherently cooperative.


David Eagleman is a good one, and plays a mean harmonica too.


That's why in 2015 clusters like YC, if they achieve criticality, self-awareness and overall sustainability, have the chance to outgrow both unis and corps for meaningful and productive innovation.


On a small scale. There's no way that model will support decades-long, large collaboration work.


The headless-chicken researchers sounds replaceable by AI. If survival is the main goal, then it is a short-sighted strategy.


As a grad student, he's right and I'm glad he's saying it. (I'm in CS, though, not biology.)


This echoes closely (for me) what I experienced as a grad student before ultimately abandoning it.

In 2005, I was pursuing my then-dream of joining the ranks of academia. I was a history & philosophy grad, and my field was 20th-century intellectual and cultural history (so, you know, a whole lot easier than and not at all like the real sciences). I'd grown somewhat tired of the expected vulture-like hovering about what had been the standard historiographical approaches of the past 30 years. Not because I did not find them valuable, insightful, meaningful, or worth continuing. I absolutely did. I continue to find them incredibly insightful. However, it just wasn't quite what I was looking for. I thought I had something better, something nobody was doing at all at that time in the field.

For an entire year, I found myself locked in an endless struggle of presenting my case, arguing my thesis and its philosophical framework and merit, with every member of the department. I couldn't succeed in convincing a single prof to head my committee. Not one. There were long and impassioned debates. They asked a ton of questions, really forced me to dig further into proving the merits and value of the idea, constantly put me on the spot to really flesh out how I was going to support this idea.

At first, I thought I was simply failing to make my case. I could accept that. It drove me to work harder to make my case. I slowly began realizing something else was up when, without fail, every prof hit a point of being no longer interested in hearing my arguments. This was signified--every single time--when they suggested they'd be willing to lead my committee if I would choose a topic that matched their research. They offered to take me on as their RA because I had so thoroughly proven my ability to quickly gain depth and breadth of understanding in a given topic. They even granted me a TA position by the end of the year to sweeten the pot (I'd been attending with no financial assistance at that point, paying the bill myself).

After this happened with the last remaining prof, I finished the semester out, then emailed them all a thanks-but-no-thanks letter. I left the program.

A month later, I received an email from one of the professors. It was a personal heads-up and invitation to attend an upcoming conference the university would be hosting. The keynote speaker just happened to be an expert on a philosopher who featured prominently in inspiring and underpinning my proposed work. The keynote topic was a talk about that philosopher's work, and a musing on how it needed to be included in historiography alongside the analytic categories employed for so long in modern historical scholarship. There was even a light-hearted mention by this prof of how much it sounded exactly like everything I'd been arguing in the department for a year, and how she thought I wouldn't want to miss hearing what an expert had to say on the topic.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

EDIT: couple word choices; formatting.


> The editor later proceeded to explain to us why he was inquiring about the reputation of these scientists: "I'm asking to make sure that I accept articles from reputable people. Because you see, at , we want to do real science, not Richard-Dawkins-type science." I remember discreetly crying for an hour that night at the conference's bar, not because that man was unjustifiably mean to one of the most intelligent scientists in the world, but because I had come to the realization that our system of scientific publication was governed by people who have no idea what knowledge is.

It's not just the people governing it. It's the system itself: you are vetted by the only people who understand what you write - the other members of your own little tribe. The editor is not supposed to understand what he publishes, he just asks the opinion of your colleagues, anonymizes slightly the responses (you can still tell who's who by their style) and gives them to you so you can reply. Afterwards the music starts again, you switch chairs and it's your turn to review your peer's article. Is there any wonder why this lead to heaps of useless research and widespread enhanced interrogation of meaningless data?

And no, Richard Dawkins is not "one of the most intelligent scientists in the world", he's just somebody you like and you extended your character judgment to every aspect of his work because you took the same shortcut as that editor: he's in your opinion one of the good ones. And your opinion is that of someone using Facebook as a blogging platform ;-)


It does seem unlikely that any random group of scientists (or people in general, for that matter) are going to be of one mind with respect to Dawkins.


[deleted]


That's deeply unfair in the case of a non-native speaker: almost no one reaches foreign language proficiency at the level you're implicitly demanding, which is basically perfection.

I don't know if this author is a native speaker but his name suggests he may not be. On HN, you should err on the side of charitability about this—especially since grammar peeves, though we all have them, are the quintessence of off-topic.


As a lay person, it was pretty ridiculous and slightly horrifying to learn how much time and effort my scientist friends have to put into fulfilling irrelevant academic criteria just to be allowed to work on the research they are incredibly passionate about.

In 'Scientific Progress Goes "Boink!"', Calvin and Hobbes build a duplicator machine out of a cardboard box. If they were researchers, they'd first have to go to school for X years, graduate, apply for a position at a research institution that kind-of does research into duplicators, get accepted, and then spend years working research around how cardboard boxes work, spend more time writing grants and trying to publish their cardboard box research, and maybe one day a board will green-light them for actually being able to research how to duplicate something.

How can we tell the people with money to stop funding this stupid system?


I think any funding system we come up with that gives out funds to uncredentialed children and stuffed animals is probably going to turn out to be a disaster. If systems have to pass that as a litmus test, I think many good systems would fail.


Very funny, but we're talking about a situation where they were fully capable of designing and building the device.


A system that needs to have no filtering so that kids don't get filtered out is unnecessarily broad. If it hits this one comic book false negative, too bad.


In a world where children are as competent as they think they are, the system should let confident children have a shot (they don't need much funding anyway).

More seriously you're taking the analogy a bit too literally. It's about time spent using competency vs. time spent signalling competency. The latter should be nowhere near a majority.




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