Scientists have destroyed science
If you sat down and explained to a non-scientist how science actually works they would be dumfounded. What good reason could any scientist have for publishing their work behind a paywall a year after they collected the data? Or not sharing data, reagents and information with anyone who asks? Why do scientists care so much about which journal publishes their work? Why is the distribution of scientific resources so unequal? Why do scientists study pointless shit? Why is there so much fraud?
I'm not like a science historian or anything. I can't really tell you if there was a time when science was free as in biohacking. Freedom to explore whatever suited their fancy. But it’s pretty apparent nowadays that science has strayed far from its idealized roots. The goal of science is to spread knowledge and decrease human suffering but somehow scientists have ended up doing the exact opposite. How did science end up this way? It leaves most people confused because scientists are supposed to be the smartest among us. The ones who can think for themselves using logic and knowledge and so aren’t easily manipulated. What we all fail to realize is that scientists are just as fallible as anyone else. They lie, cheat and steal. They can be racists, sexists and sexual assaulters. They are stuck in an intellectual bubble they create around their lives that is filled with people who think and act the same way. The homogeny of scientific thinking has created a prison that no longer allows scientists to care about some sort of truth. Goals have become superficial like fame and money. Motivation is more akin to a Silicon Valley email marketing company that thinks it is going to change the world than the altruistic search for knowledge that is portrayed. This wouldn't be a problem if we didn't see scientists as a priesthood who unbiasedly delivers us truth and facts. But how could actual truth and facts be so dependent on human fallibility?
In 1980, the Bayh-Dole act was passed. I see this as a turning point in science. Before that time research done through federal funded grants wasn’t as easily patentable by universities and licensed out to companies. The government surmised that maybe the reason companies weren’t commercializing scientific discoveries and inventions was because it wasn’t as easy to obtain exclusive patents. Bayh-Dole makes it so that government funded research can be more easily patent protected and sold by those who do the research. Pre-1980s-ish was the good old days. Nobel Prize Winner Peter Higgs (after which the Higgs boson is named, ya’ know the fundamental particle that gives things mass), who did all of his work before 1980, has stated that he wouldn’t be able to hold a faculty position in todays academia because he wouldn’t be considered productive enough. Most of the professors I worked with in graduate school finished their PhDs in the 1980s and claimed similar. They never would have gotten a job nowadays. Who knows if Bayh-Dole was the catalyst but the culture of modern science became one more akin to capitalism. As much as you _heart_ capitalism because you read the first chapter of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, science and capitalism are at odds similarly to how medicine and capitalism don’t work. (the only way medicine can make more money is if people are sick or are charged more for drugs they need, both of which are a negative for the consumer) Scientists need money to do science. But there is no way to accurately measure how good a scientists is and no one can really predict what scientific research will be beneficial for humanity. The solution scientists have come up. Distributing it diversely across all manner of people and universities to create more opportunity for innovation to occur. roflmao… Not. What they actual do is give money to people who went to good schools, worked with famous people and have a good scientific publication record. Now, that doesn’t seem problematic at all *sarcasm*.
There has never been a point in history where science was so bereft of meaning. The goals have become to grow your financials, the number of people in your lab, the number of publications you have and fame. Especially now with mass commercialization of academic findings and the competitiveness of grants and publications, there could never be less reason to share unpublished/unpatented data or share “scientific knowledge”. This idea that scientists are a priesthood of people who have dedicated their lives to solving the world’s problems at great sacrifice to themselves is completely false. Scientists themselves promote these fantasies. They put up these fronts that their only desire is the search for truth. It’s scary how similar it is to growing up in the church. Everyone is afraid that if they admit to faults and failures or try fix the system the spell will be broken. The veil lifted. Everyone will realize they were being conned. So instead everyone pretends like everything is perfect. But it’s not perfect. And sometimes your step-dad punches you in the face on the way to church. Stopping off at a gas station to clean-up your bloody nose. Showing up, shaking hands and praising the Lord like nothing happened. Church isn’t a place that you find spirituality. It’s a place where you can pretend that you already have it.
Science isn’t a place that you find truth. It’s a place you can pretend you already know it. Scientists don't do experiments to learn things as much as do experiments to support a view. Seems pretty easy to manipulate, right? As a scientist you don’t talk about how you ran the experiment ten times but you publish the results of the time you got the “correct” results. You don’t talk about how YOU alone get to decide if that measurement on the instrument was experimental error so you can just toss the data out. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't Scientific ideas are stolen so often that there is even a term for it, being scooped. You don’t talk about how much fraud is committed. How, daily, scientific papers are retracted because of fraud and that’s just the obvious ones. How when I worked at NASA I was asked to review paper submissions and one paper was so blatantly fraud I had to report it and everyone just shrugged and nothing happened.
The institution of science has become completely corrupted to it’s core and the core of science is publishing. What should be a simple practice of making your experiments and data available for free to the public online instead turns into the strange ritual of scientists paying publishing companies to put their pre-formatted papers online behind paywalls. These paywalls force everyone to pay to read those papers. And most of the research described in the papers… funded with public money. It forces other scientists, medical doctors, journalists and terminally ill patients to pay to see if the data on that latest drug was important enough to save someone's life. But that’s just the start. These papers usually contain no raw data and many times the methods or details will be left out or obscured so it makes it more difficult for people who research similar things to compete with you. Literally, you could just write up your paper like you normally would and post it online, free for everyone to read and it would save billions of dollars a year. And don’t scream SCI-HUB! or any of the other services that help you pirate these papers. That’s like recommending tylenol for inflammation caused by the chestburster about to exit your body.
Scientific publishing companies make billions of dollars a year. Billions in government grants and educational funding is used to wipe the ass of executives who do nothing more than post scientific papers online. Why oh why would any reasonable human being, much less the intellectually elite among us, participate in this when anyone in this day and age can easily post any document online for free with little or no effort? You ask scientists and their answers are always handwavy. How would we know where to find papers or how would anyone know what papers to read if there weren’t publishing companies? As if people actually go and scroll through tables of contents and don’t just do a web search for something like “Does sexual deprivation increase alcohol intake in fruit flies”. The reality is that publishing companies have become the judges of a scientific works prestige. And if you don’t play the game you can never become prestigious. This is one of the major driving forces in every scientists career. To be recognized. To get grants. To be given honors and awards. You don’t get there by doing good science because how can one even judge the worth of science done? Who can predict how valuable some research or discovery will be 2 or 5 or 50 years from now? But science is a competition now so someone has to judge it.
What enables this system is the people who participate in it. Scientists. Why would they change when no one is forcing them? The need for belonging is too great and the social cost too much to do otherwise. Science is an old boys club. One of the oldest. You don’t so much choose to be a scientist as you are born into it. If you work for someone famous enough, usually an old white guy at a place like Harvard, your chances of getting a professorship or grants are exponentially higher. The problem is that being a great scientist is an intangible. When I was in graduate school I used to wish that in some way scientific success could be linked to something tangible like stats in a sport. I wanted there to be a way that if I just practiced more or tried harder I could become a better scientist. You will never hear the phrase uttered that a scientist works with so much heart because what actually matters is who you know and where you went to school. It doesn’t matter how many hours I spent in the lab or how many books or papers I read. Those weren’t predictors of academic success. Some of the hardest working smartest scientists I know couldn’t progress in the profession because they didn’t fit the mold. Didn’t know the right people or didn’t choose to work in the lab of a famous individual. The culture of science is portrayed as a meritocracy but what they forget to tell you is that there is someone who gets to decide what has merit or not. And if you’re different in any way then suffice it to say that people who decide what's good science probably aren’t like you.
What destroyed science was scientists. The system has created a race to the bottom. The more fraud you commit, the more you scoop others work or give your friends grants and favorable reviews the more successful you become. The best ideas don’t succeed or win. Neither do the best scientists, however you want to define that. Science has become winner take all where a single lab can hold tens of millions of dollars in grants while others have tens of thousands or nothing. Some scientists have a budget of literally a few thousand dollars a year. How do they compete? It's gross inequality. How do you base the scientific system, that is meant to uphold the world, on a sense of divine right to Harvard?
The only similarity between Scientia and modern science is in name. And name is the skin suit it applies lotion to so it can convince us it’s not dead yet. In order for science to become something else it needs to be born different. It needs to see differently and grow not from God ordained hereditary institutions but from people’s hearts. Damn that sounds cheesy but it’s true. Biohacking is this. It's doing science for fun or no reason at all. Making knowledge and information available to everyone, for free, so anyone can participate. It’s not a contest, there are no winners, except for all of us. But as long as the establishment continues to pervert science for their individual glory there will be a cost in knowledge, medicine and the alleviation of human suffering.
We need a new system built for everyone by everyone.
I’ve made money making decks and trailers for doctors who want $ and glory instead of truly helping anyone. If someone’s motivation in Science is money and fame they are in the wrong field. Glad you aren’t at NASA anymore. Thanks for this article.
Your post has changed my paradygm. Thank you for preventing me from mistakes, that I would definitely do in next 4 years, if you didn't post this.