Monday, August 7, 2017

The Research Bubble

The Last Psychiatrist used to write a blog full of angry, cynical rants about his profession and the world. In 2009 he wrote about a plan to force any researcher who received government money to publish the research in an open access journal where any taxpayer can read it:
Would anything in AJP be worth reading if it wasn't actually in AJP?

If you think about it, the entire past 15 years in psychiatry have produced no discoveries at all. None. We have different medicines, okay; but they're not better, just different. We don't have a better handle on the anatomic or genetic or anything causes of anything-- we're not even any further along in defining our terms. Thousands of articles rehashing the same old ground have kept thousands of academics employed, to no benefit whatsoever for mankind.

Take away the journals and the system collapses. Force researchers with NIH grants to publish their findings without the marketing and packaging of a journal, and you've effectively halted half of the NIH research, until another generation of researchers with a different research model show up for work. For sure, unquestionably, you've killed off psychiatry as it functions today.

Academic research is a bubble, money keeps flowing into it as long as it produces quality research. Who decides quality? Journals are the rating agencies, Moody's, they keep it sustainable by giving it AAA rating. The ratings agencies are precisely what keeps the bubble inflated, just like with the mortgages, they are what keeps research money pouring into the system.

If someone could look behind the ratings, and take measure of the actual value of the research, the bubble would pop faster than, well, you get the idea. Then there's the "systemic risk." Journals collapse, academic centers collapse from lack of funding, Pharma loses the AAA rating on their studies which are done by academics, published in journals, etc.

Research would be forced to change completely-- and for the better. But you'll have a decade or so recession in science and education while the old generation dies out and the new one becomes old enough to start work.
I also like the plan to make taxpayer-funded research available to everyone, and I enjoy the thought that universities and grant givers might have to find some other way of evaluating scientists and scholars than by which journal their articles appear in. Journal publication is a game that has as much to do with citing the right people and taking the right tone as on the quality of the underlying work, and we really need a better scheme.


G. Verloren said...

"Research would be forced to change completely-- and for the better."

This sort of thinking always makes me extremely leery, because it's extremely reductionist and makes huge assumption that it takes for granted.

Collapsing an entire system and forcing a new one to be built from scratch does not automatically ensure a better system. Vacuums don't fill themslves optimally or efficiently. They only thing they do on their own is fill themselves quickly, which more often than not means chaotically and messily.

If you want a better system, you need to design and plan for one, and then transition to it in a controlled fashion - not just throw the dice and hope you get a lucky roll. The current system may well be highly flawed, but unless you have a solid idea of how to replace it with something demonstrably better, I don't want to hear about your revolutionary zeal to tear down the system around everyone's ears.

Anonymous said...

That would mean ideas and thought and work. Destruction is easy.