Kudos to Vox’s Julia Belluz, Brad Plummer, and Brian Resnick for this fantastic longread that addresses seven of the biggest problems facing science and provides a framework for possible solutions.
Highlights (in the interest of space, these highlights relate just to the section on funding; be sure to read the full piece):
- “As reporters covering medicine, psychology, climate change, and other areas of research, we wanted to understand this epidemic of doubt. So we sent scientists a survey asking this simple question: If you could change one thing about how science works today, what would it be and why? We heard back from 270 scientists all over the world, including graduate students, senior professors, laboratory heads, and Fields Medalists. They told us that, in a variety of ways, their careers are being hijacked by perverse incentives. The result is bad science.”
- “To do most any kind of research, scientists need money: to run studies, to subsidize lab equipment, to pay their assistants and even their own salaries. Our respondents told us that getting — and sustaining — that funding is a perennial obstacle.”
- “In the United States, academic researchers in the sciences generally cannot rely on university funding alone to pay for their salaries, assistants, and lab costs. Instead, they have to seek outside grants. Grants also usually expire after three or so years, which pushes scientists away from long-term projects. Outside grants are also in increasingly short supply.”
- “Some of our respondents said that this vicious competition for funds can influence their work. Funding “affects what we study, what we publish, the risks we (frequently don’t) take,” explains Gary Bennett a neuroscientist at Duke University. It “nudges us to emphasize safe, predictable (read: fundable) science.”
- “With funding from NIH, USDA, and foundations so limited … researchers feel obligated — or willingly seek — food industry support. The frequent result? Conflicts of interest,” says Marion Nestle, food politics professor, New York University.”
- “When funding and pay structures are stacked against academic scientists,” writes Alison Bernstein, a neuroscience postdoc at Emory University, “these problems are all exacerbated.”