Two-speed academia

I’m in Providence since last Thursday, attending the Evolution meeting. One of the main talks was dedicated to mention some possible sources of error when conducting research and to advocate for open science and replicable methods.

I fully agree with the need for replicability and open science to improve the quality of research. Indeed, during my last postdoc I’ve started myself to dedicate much more time to comment R scripts, write reports in markdown to explain my methods… etc. Maybe that’s why when I listened to the different habits we should develop when conducting research I thought: ‘what an extra load of work’.

Does it matter? Is it really important to finish up your paper 6 months before or later? Well, if you’ve got a permanent position it may not. If you’ve got a 3-year PhD scholarship or a 1-year postdoc contract it does, a lot.

Since some time ago I’ve realized that there’s a clear separation between the work of permanent researchers and the work of PhD students and postdocs. I think it’s clearly associated with the contrast between the stability of permanent positions and the wild competition in the job market (with publication records, impact factors and other bullshit). We’re in a two-speed academia, where permanent researchers are ‘running for their dinner’ and temporal researchers ‘running for their lives’.

Should we care about this? Should we stop improving science because our society is unfair? Well, the same way it isn’t ethical to care only about the career of temporal researchers despising research quality (i. e. publishing a lot, no matter what), I don’t think it’s right to ask them to work more and harder while carrying on with this mad system (i. e. sentencing the young authors of some wonderful work to unemployment). In other words, I think science has bigger problems than the lack of open science and maybe even related to it: if we improve the work conditions of the young researchers (the main workforce), we will probably improve the work quality in science.

Here an example: