- Some scientists mentioned that there are some initiatives underway to make all data available on big data servers. By making all data available (the good with the bad, the logic goes), this would make the field more transparent… I personally think this is a difficult idea to swallow since a very large data set would need an accompanying document of instructions that is so large it becomes prohibitively undo-able. One theorist present, for example, uses a 3 month continuous slot on a super computer to calculate some energy/electrical consideration for a highly complicated surface/molecule/interface/interaction… Good luck sending that in to the ether… Scientists would then have to contend with merely being heard above the background noise.
- One scientist said that science should be presented as a ‘narrative’ story. It “needs appeal”, otherwise it wont gain traction. This appeals to basic human instinct. If a scientist ‘takes me on a journey’ in a lecture or a scientific paper it is not only easier to follow, it helps parameterize the whole field in context of other works. Some erred on the side of caution: “we don’t need to tell stories, those who are interested will read it anyway”… I personally don’t think it works like that.
- The scandal of ‘authority’. Everyone agreed that ‘authority’ is meaningless i.e. your reputation as a scientist has nothing to do with the number of papers you publish and in which journals. Rather, on the science that you do. Everyone knew, from reading the literature in their own field and in conversation with scientists themselves, who were the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ scientists in their field.
- The issue of ‘h-index’ is a really sour point. H-index is a modern analysis technique that ranks a scientist’s impact in the field based on how many citations they have per publication (more or less). This index is (partially) socially constructed, and follows algorithms, which leads some scientists to play the game of “how do I boost my h-index” without necessarily being a good scientist. One scientist told me afterwards that both extremes of the h-index are suspicious i.e. you could have an h-index of zero which could mean that you are a closet genius with the best science ever but no one has ever heard of who you are (and never publish your work) or you are a loser in your mother’s basement. Conversely, you could have the highest h-index in the world which could indicate that something must be going wrong i.e. you wrote one paper which, for trending reasons, people are citing and re-citing, but you yourself are not actually the greatest scientists in your field.
- All of these discussions led some scientists to demand the ‘abolishing’ of h-indices (that will never happen… computer algorithms exist, get over it) but others merely said that we should just ignore it – and that’s what most scientists do. H-indices have SOME meaning, but it shouldn’t be the final arbiter of any faculty position decision.
- HOWEVER, and a big however it is… young budding scientists are facing a problem. They NEED to publish in high-impact journals to get positions at universities and in many institutions, they have to play this game. It’s mostly the ‘better’ research institutions that can see past this. A few scientists present admitted that this is exactly what happened to them. Hmm, what to do?
- One scientist said that researchers need get out of the habit of only using your own highly specialized technique. Perhaps the best way of ensuring that your results (as) closely (as possible) resemble a scientific ‘fact’ is to approach the problem from multivariate angles, methods, techniques and theories. The sum total of all of these should paint a clearer picture for everyone. Promisingly, good scientists do this, although it did serve as a warning to everyone.
- A number of scientists commented on the difficulty of the review processes. When a scientific paper is submitted to a journal, the journal asks experts to critically review the work. There is normally an amount of time that they get to work on it. This is hard. Some papers need real consideration, and its not always possible to check every single word, figure and reference. Do you not review this paper? Review it poorly? Or spend more time on it that you are paid for!? These are difficult questions, and the pressure lead to mistaken outcomes. One scientist commented “I received a paper to review and another reviewer let the paper sail through because he respected the researcher…”, alarm bells ringing anyone?! People need to wake up!
- High impact journals (like Nature and Science) don’t guarantee that the work is great quality. Some scientists admitted that their best papers were in journals that were more specialized, with a unique readership.
All in all, it was fascinating to hear about these issues. So many of which may seem subsidiary, and out of the remit of science, but they present real problems that serve to bottleneck the scientific endeavor. Its why budding scientists need to be pragmatic and smart about their science.
Don’t stick to your comfort zone. Try many things. Understand that politics is unfortunately interwoven with science in many ways, and that to get ahead you need to be steadfast in your scientific convictions.