Gravity's Rainbow

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December 4, 2013
by sarcozona
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Paula Stephan, an economist at Georgia State University, argues that many of the research community’s problems flow from two big features of how we do research. First, we staff our labs with low-wage, temporary workers—graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who move on after a few years. This means that universities have an incentive to recruit and train more students and postdocs, regardless of their eventual job prospects. The result is unsustainable. As Stephan writes, “the research enterprise itself resembles a pyramid scheme.”

The second structural problem is that career rewards in science are doled out according to a “tournament model,” a situation in which small advantages—in productivity, skill, or network connections—translate into large differences in rewards like faculty jobs, grant funding, and tenure. Tournament models foster intense competition, but they can be incredibly wasteful: the differences between a proposal that is funded and one that is not can be small and arbitrary. These small and arbitrary differences are making and breaking scientific careers in which taxpayers have invested substantial resources.

How We’re Unintentionally Defunding the National Institutes of Health

March 21, 2013
by sarcozona
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Still, says Clette, it is fascinating to ‘work’ with colleagues from hundreds of years ago. For instance, he says that even though Galileo’s coverage of the Sun was spotty because Galileo was “busy with planets and other things”, the drawings are detailed enough to reveal information about the magnetic structure of the sunspot groups and the size and tilt of the star’s dipole. “You can extract from those drawings exactly the same information as from a drawing made today,” he says.

More than that, however, he is taken with his forebears’ foresight. They faithfully recorded what they saw, thinking that it could be useful later on, he says. “It’s a fundamental aspect of science,” he says, “not worrying what will be the final result.” [emphasis mine]

From a wonderful article in Nature on long term research.