One of the official bloggers for the recent Neuroscience meeting was Pascal Wallisch, who blogs here. Over at Tideliar’s post conference examination of the SfN “offical” blogs, he posted this comment:
Upon seeing my posts, some senior people in my department have already strongly advised me to “stop fucking around” and “cut the shit” and focus on “the only thing that counts (papers)” instead. They were unambiguous about that.
I cannot begin to describe how much this anecdote upsets me. It’s an unwelcome reminder that I am a participant in a corrupt system.
Yes, corrupt. I can’t think of a better description of a system that not only allows, but seems to encourage this sort of utter disdain for everything but the narrowest of research goals. It’s the same myopia that seems to infect Scott Kern.
I bet the argument is not “nothing matters but papers,” but probably a more complex chain: papers matters because they get grants, and grants matter because universities are making hiring and tenure decisions based on grant and potential for grants.
I’m also willing to bet that this argument gets made a whole lot more in biomedical fields. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) don’t require any plans for broader impacts (unlike the National Science Foundation), probably on the basis that the benefits of medicine is seen as so self-explanatory. And NIH is, from my understanding, more likely to pay entire salaries than other agencies.
So good bye to education to our students (except our grad students and postdocs, because they’re the labour force, and damn it, they have to learn how to run the machine) or anyone else who will never be on a federal grant review panel. Screw them.
And thus is created the image of academia and science of being completely self-interested, hell bent only on preserving their own vested interests, and perceived as fat cat millionaires. And thus does public trust and interest erode, and politicians who vow to take on elites and intellectuals get voted into office and wreck science budgets and evidence-based policy.
While conversations about outreach projects like Rock Stars of Science and Science Cheerleaders go on, at least they are trying to do something. At least they have some a sense that there is a world out there beyond the “Submit now” buttons on journal websites.
Additional: Jerry Coyne's reflections on joining the blogosphere and passing four million views (ack!) is relevant to this discussion. I’ve added some emphasis:
I thought that my job was to dispense professorial wisdom to eager and untutored recipients, hungry to learn about evolution. Oy, was I wrong! I had no idea that among the readers would be many scientists and professional evolutionists, many of whom know a lot more than I do about topics I cover. And not only that, but philosophers, musicians, literature addicts, and even a Nobel laureate or two. I can hardly make a post in which I don’t learn more than I teach. And I don’t think I’ve ever written a single post in which I didn’t say something wrong. I appreciate the corrections, but it is humbling.
Photo by futureatlas.com on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.