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ResourcesResearch IntegrityHow Academic Science Gave Its Soul to the Publishing Industry – Issues in Science and Technology (Mark Neff | January 2020)

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

How Academic Science Gave Its Soul to the Publishing Industry – Issues in Science and Technology (Mark Neff | January 2020)

Published/Released on January 27, 2020 | Posted by Admin on March 9, 2020 / , , , , ,

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Self-governance of science was supposed to mean freedom of inquiry, but it also ended up serving the business model of scientific publishers while undermining the goals of science policy.

America’s globally preeminent university research enterprise is constructed on two bedrock principles of self-governance. The first is autonomy: academic scientists should be left free to determine their own research agendas. The second is internal accountability: the quality of academic science is best assessed by academic scientists. The commitment to scientific self-governance carries with it a policy requirement as well: support for research will mostly have to come from the federal government; companies will never make the necessary investments in undirected research because they cannot capture the economic benefits for themselves.

Regular readers of the material we post to the Resource Library already know how we feel about the issues and struggle described in this great article, but these are points that cannot be repeated too often.

The origin story of how this arrangement came about is a familiar one. During World War II, civilian scientists and engineers developed pivotal innovations that contributed to the allied victory. Their work was funded, overseen, and coordinated by the US Office of Scientific Research and Development, directed by Vannevar Bush, formerly the president of the Carnegie Institution for Science and a dean of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Closely administered for relevance in advancing the war effort, wartime research and development activities were managed in a manner antithetical to contemporary ideals of scientific self-governance. Following the war, Bush made a pitch in his now famous report Science, The Endless Frontier that to secure social and economic benefits in the postwar period, including more and better paying jobs, more productive agriculture, and innovative industrial products desired by consumers, “the flow of scientific knowledge must be both continuous and substantial.” To achieve this knowledge flow he felt that the government should provide generous funding for the scientific community, as it had during the war.

But counter to the coordinated wartime R&D effort he had headed, Bush insisted that scientists must be allowed to work “on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for the exploration of the unknown.” Such curiosity-driven basic science would yield essential but unpredictable benefits at unknowable points downstream, he argued, and was an essential prerequisite for solving social problems. The quality of a proposed research project could not therefore be judged by its potential benefits to society—those were unforeseeable. Scientists would judge scientific merit according to their own internal criteria.

Read the rest of this discussion piece

Neff, Mark W. “How Academic Science Gave Its Soul to the Publishing Industry.” Issues in Science and Technology 36, no. 2 (Winter 2020): 35–43.

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