Most research is completely unrelated to societal challenges

Most research is completely unrelated to societal challenges

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27 July 2021 | In the current system, scientists mainly conduct socially relevant research when it enhances their careers. That will change in the open science system, predicts Frank Medema of Utrecht University during the United Nations Open Science Conference.

Scientists who want to work in this system must survive in this system. “Those who want to survive, head to the scales,” says Frank Medema. Photo: Sebastian ter Burg.

The scientific practice of researchers is not guided by issues from society or science itself, but by the way researchers are motivated and rewarded, says Frank Medema, head of the Open Science Program at Utrecht University, during the Open Science Conference in the US. Nations. Since researchers are now basically rewarding on the basis of metrics as such h-indexes and Journal Impact Factors, they will mainly conduct research that can be translated into quality articles in prestigious journals.

Scientists who want to work in this system must survive in this system. Who wants to survive, send on metricsMedema explains: “This is the most promising method for obtaining research grants. Anyone who thinks highly educated people are not guided by this, forget that we are all human.”

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Midema cautions that the troubling consequence of the fact that researchers are organizing their research primarily with the aim of funding a subsequent research project is the fact that they will ignore really complex questions. Since most researchers only receive funding for four or five years, they lack the guarantee needed to meet the major challenges. “This system keeps researchers from taking risks and makes decisions with a focus on the short term.”

In addition, the current assessment method is detrimental to scientific fields with enormous social impact but with low results in terms of metricsMedima explains. “For example, applied research is now rated less than basic research and the social and human sciences are often rated less than empirical sciences. I myself come from biochemistry. There, the question is constantly asked whether or not sociologists are actually doing real science.

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“like metrics Guide our selections of research topics, if we investigate mainly those issues on which we can write good articles in good journals, which are contrary to societal needs ”, emphasizes the researcher in Utrecht. metrics It prevents researchers from doing much of the research that they desperately need but does not help them in their careers. Science is defined by metrics; We have to keep that in mind all the time.”

Via posts about appreciation and money

In his career, Medema got to know this system from the inside out. “If anyone here is guilty of taking advantage of the current system, it is me,” Midema raises her heart. “My career intertwines with it. I was once hired by someone who published great articles as a postdoc in the United States. These articles earned him recognition, which later paid off in research funding. With that money he could buy facilities and hire PhD students, including myself. , who produced data for him in the lab. Based on this data, we published articles, as first author and my supervisor as last author, which also gave me the discretion that I could convert to funding for my research.”

Once he got credit for the articles, Miedema says, he did the same thing as his former manager. He hired young researchers who produced data and wrote articles with him as the last author and her author as the first author. “That’s how science works. Not just in science, everywhere. When I explain this to people looking to have a career in science, they don’t see a scientific system but a career-enhancing one—and I must admit that this is indeed the case.”

Society often misses out on the search

An important part of Open Science is sharing data – not only with other scientists, but also with societal and individual stakeholders. However, in the system in which Midema trained, that’s not very attractive, he says. “After all, we needed our data for our professional life; you then share the data with your competitors. Anyway, you were trained on the idea that you only work with a colleague or two. Thus, multidisciplinary and multidisciplinary are completely irrelevant, And that’s what we still see happening in many places.”

Medema asserts that with such a situation society is virtually absent from the research process, “Even in biomedical research, patients’ families are rarely involved in making choices and evaluating scientific research. This is an important fact, because most of the research that is being done has nothing to do with the social problems that And that, in turn, has to do with the choices researchers make — choices that inform our system of incentives and rewards.”

The spirit of open science is cooperation with the community

Midema explains that this changes in the open science paradigm, which is only possible if all actors in the scientific system participate. “We can ask researchers to publish everything open access and share their data, but if that makes for the worst metrics which will stop soon. Open science requires a change in which everyone participates; Otherwise, it won’t work.”

Medema asserts that if researchers are judged more on the impact of their research and less on existing measures, it will lead to more research that benefits society. “The ethos of open science is collaboration with the community, which is why sharing data and results is part of that — not just afterwards, but also at the beginning and during the study. In the research on AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, for example, it was natural to discuss With patients the type of research that should be conducted. You shouldn’t formulate research questions yourself, you should do it with relevant stakeholders. This greatly increases the chance of impact. An article in nature will not make a patient better.”

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