Current research trends resemble the early 21st century’s financial bubble
Whatever you might want to say about humans, our behavior is profoundly affected by the incentive structures we encounter. Imagine what might happen if banks that issued home loans no longer made money off the interest, but rather made money by blending the loans into investment bonds that they then sold to investors. There are a limited number of people fortunate enough to afford a home. Once all those people had mortgages, the banks would then become a mortgage-backed–security factory that had run out of raw materials to make its product.
The banks could simply stop making money—or they could start making loans to anyone who applied, regardless of people’s ability to pay. After all, once the loans were sold to investors, the risk was no longer the bank’s. Of course, the rating agencies are designed to alert us to risk, but they get paid to do so by the banks, and angering your only customer base is not good business. Prior to 2008, without the intention of doing so, the system had evolved such that the bankers were specifically incentivized to inflate a massive bubble in the economy, built upon bad loans and unsustainable debt, and make a fortune doing it at no risk to themselves—and this is precisely what they did.
So, let’s imagine what might happen if the rules of professional science evolved such that scientists were incentivized to publish as many papers as they could and if those who published many papers of poor scientific rigor were rewarded over those who published fewer papers of higher rigor? What would happen if scientists weren’t rewarded for the long-term reproducibility and rigor of their findings, but rather became a factory that produced and published highly exciting and innovative new discoveries, and then other scientists and companies spent resources on the follow up studies and took all the risk?