The researcher’s frenzy to publish
The pressure has never been greater on today’s scientist. As the world becomes smaller, competition comes from all corners of the globe. The need to produce compelling research and publish quickly to win that big grant, bag that tenure or just to sustain one’s position has never been greater. Often times however, the results do not seem to come at the pace one desires. Years of research may be undone by someone else beating you to the post. Most pick up the pieces and steel themselves for the next challenge. Unfortunately some don’t share that conviction and seek out shortcuts.
I read the other day about a researcher whose papers were retracted from a prestigious journal. He was caught committing fraud in choosing reviewers who were his own colleagues. He supplied fake email addresses which were later mapped to scientists from his own institution. He did this not once but 4 times! Following this, he lost his position, sullied the reputation of his supervisor and set back the careers of 8 students. The institution of course was absolved of any wrongdoing.
Who is to blame for this? Is it the institution, the peer review process or is it the frenzy to publish at an incredible pace? Increasingly we are surrounded by stories about people who succeed in sports, politics or business by gaming the system and the temptation dangles to follow suit. I believe the problem lies in the the way the results are valued more than the process of getting there. A researcher should be able to safely and freely share their findings and be recognized as a contributor to the field of research. Could a technology like blockchain help in ensuring due credit is attributed when their research is used to support a major discovery in the future? Could we then use open peer review to encourage discussion and reduce repetitive and expensive experiments to reach the same conclusion? Major discoveries in recent times have typically been done by a group or collaboration with the ability to learn from each other without fear of competition. It’s interesting to note that most Nobel prizes this year have been awarded to a group of researchers rather than just one. If the first authorship is attributed to a collaboration and no longer just to the lead researcher, the chances of academic integrity and scientific success are far greater. Institutions and collaborations will no longer blame the individual and will instead take greater responsibility in ensuring they hire and promote researchers with both skill and character to safeguard their own reputation. Researchers will aspire to be a part of such institutions and collaborations across geographies. A far fetched reality? Maybe, but it’s the end of a long week and time to dream of a better tomorrow.