Why Scientists Have Stopped Taking Risks

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Why Scientists Have Stopped Taking Risks

Quote:And yet, the underlying risk of failure in exploratory research has always been a feature of scientific investigation. So why is it dictating scientists’ behaviour more than ever? In short, because of the change in the way their success is measured. The rule for research scientists used to be “publish or perish”. First articulated in the Forties, this notion designates a scientist who publishes many papers as “productive”. But in recent decades, the importance of this metric has faded. Now, the popularity of a given article trumps all, and popularity is measured by the number of times other scientific papers cite it. Like the sports statistics sites that report the batting averages of professional baseball hitters, services such as Google Scholar and Web of Science report the extent of a scientist’s influence, valuing their work based on the number of citations it has garnered. The new mantra is: be influential or be sidelined.

This fixation has decreased the incentive to engage in exploration. When a scientist ventures into an emerging area of investigation, the work is unlikely to garner many citations, because few other scientists will be working on related topics. By contrast, as a successful idea matures, the relative certainty of making discoveries — however incremental — attracts more scientists to the area, and if many people are working in that field, their work will receive more citations.
(This post was last modified: 2023-02-17, 01:17 PM by Will.)
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