When Did Science Lose Its Spark?
Updated: Mar 25, 2020
Despite being the gateway to the impossible and encouraging our advancement as a species, throughout the past few decades, science has been given the lowest esteem of all professions.
Placing artists, entertainers, Oscar winners and athletes at a higher priority, we turned a blind eye to the very people who were expected to turn our world into wonders, and in turn, slowed their development to a standstill.
The lack of support we provided to the scientific field has forced it into a commercially driven one, where out of the box thinking is discouraged, talent is determined by quantity instead of quality and discoveries are rarely given the time of day.
And now, as a global pandemic destabilizes the world, we don’t turn to the celebrities we idolized and the entertainment industries we poured billions of dollars into. Instead, we find ourselves looking back to the same people, and the same system, we let down.
But, unfortunately, it’s too late. The damage has already been done. No amount of international pressure will rid the system of the issues that plague it.
The only way we can trigger any change is by looking deep into the roots of the problems, addressing them one by one and bringing them all to light.
And in this article, I’ll attempt to do just that.
1: Minimal Pay and Obsession With Papers
One of the main, and most obvious, issues in the scientific field is the insufficient pay.
Even though this matter may seem apparent to most, its long-term consequences are rarely spoken about.
In the U.S, an early career Research Scientist earns an average salary of $75,507. Compare this to the annual salary of a commercial pilot ($130,059), the average salary of a dentist ($175,840), and finally, the average salary of an NFL player (about $860,000).
These meager salaries have forced most scientists across the world to rush for promotions in a system where one’s level of expertise is largely dependent on their quantity of work, rather than the quality.
The universal way for a young scientist to climb up in their career is by publishing a large number of scientific papers.
However, the funds required to support cutting-edge research and write these high-quality papers are often only given to those who have already secured a large number of publications, because they are considered more experienced and established.
So, in hopes of moving up the ranks and qualifying for the huge funds they need, many of these ‘young and fresh’ scientists, find themselves compelled to produce as many papers as possible, at the expense of their quality.
They content themselves in making small, yet secure, steps in their research, instead of hunting for bigger, more risky and time-consuming, findings.
They aim for the low hanging fruit and repeat what has already been done, with a few changes here and there, because they know it will all be published.
For example, instead of studying cures for new diseases, many scientists commonly study the effects of already-tested drugs, because it’s an easier, and more guaranteed method of paper-publishing.
They don’t want to try something new, because if it turns out negative, it will have a harder time being published.
And if it’s not publishable, then it’s a waste of time.
These negative findings, due to the stigma that surrounds them, are ultimately published in low-impact journals, barely getting the attention they deserve.
Consequently, scientists across the world end up repeating the same experiments, not knowing that the outcome has already been determined. Therefore, slowing down scientific progress immensely and wasting valuable resources.
2: Loss of Potential
Moreover, as the years go by, and as these ‘young scientists’ grow old in the same, career-driven mentality, we lose the sharp, out of the box minds we once had.
Those who were once so filled with bright and unorthodox ideas become confined to the same automated routine of publishing huge numbers of low-quality papers, that very rarely contribute to or benefit the human race.
As a result, many scientists begin to forget what real discovery looks like.
3: Single-Sided Advancements
Another issue that has caused science to stagnate is the insistence on single-sided work.
From planning an experiment to collecting and analyzing, biologists usually lead the researching process. Using advanced lab technology, they are able to mass-produce very promising data which they then insist on analyzing themselves.
The problem here is that these biologists have limited analyzing expertise that does not match the sophistication and complexity of the data they are able to produce.
Most of the time, these biologists don’t even see the point in involving other scientists, such as numerical analysts who can truly dive deep into the data’s potential, ending up barely scratching the surface with their discoveries.
Sometimes, the initial designs of experiments are made too simple for any sophisticated analysis to take place afterward. This is because the biologists who designed the experiment didn’t know what was needed for the in depth-analysis to occur and did not want to ‘waste time’ finding out.
So, instead, this mass-produced data is barely investigated and is sent for publishing in the fastest time possible, in order to satisfy the constant pressure of producing papers.
This is not real science.
How can we claim to be advancing the field if all we do is collect and present data?
Journals all across the world are filled with papers that simply “report” their findings. They don’t look into what the data might mean, or what effects it may have on the human race.
‘Real discovery’ is not achieved through mass-producing meaningless data and sticking it into a poorly written paper in hopes of it being published in any journal.
Science is about investing time, money and effort into something that could truly change the world.
Instead of joining forces and making use of our global intelligence, we branch off into our own little groups, exhaust our expertise, and repeat ourselves to the point where no real outcome can be expected.
Although organizations have begun to prioritize funding for multidisciplinary approaches to research, many still remain stuck in their field of expertise, not wanting to expand on their knowledge.
This may be one of the reasons we struggle to find cures for diseases that clearly require more than one specialty’s contribution: such as the coronavirus we face today.
At the end of the day, the talent of a scientist should not be determined by the number of papers they are able to squeeze through every year. Instead, they should be judged on the impact their experiments have on society.
Every now and then we need to clear the stage for those who can make leaps in the field, regardless of their number of publications or scientific rank: people who can interface between different disciplines and encourage opportunities that no individual specialty could develop on its own.
Perhaps we need to be more accepting of those who can challenge deep-rooted scientific traditions, or simply introduce new approaches.
Because these people are the ones who hold the true spirit of science and discovery.