Well, the 2008 budget is out, and despite earlier noises to the contrary, science funding continues to lag behind inflation. I’m not surprised.
The entire enterprise has problems from top to bottom.
I’ve been talking about the proposal review process, and I have lots of pent-up frustration about the managerial process.
Linus Torvalds attributes the success of open source to following a scientific openness model, but scientists are closed and university legal teams are cagey and possessive of codes and methods, sacrificing science in their search for the jackpot patent.
In conversation last week at AGU, James complained about the value add in journals, the gatekeepers of science, being provided by unpaid volunteers while the huge financial transfers go to corporate entities mostly concerned with binding and shipping antiquated bits of paper that nobody ever actually looks at anymore.
Meanwhile, once something even a little bit technically subtle comes across the field of vision of the political sector, there are enough clowns in scientist costumes around to derail any remotely sensible policy.
All of these problems come down to communication; communication among peers, communication across disciplines, communication within institutions, communication with students, and communication with the public. Communication involves listening as well as speaking.
Scientists these days are scrambling to meet their perceived demands. We have little time to absorb the work of others, little time to design meaningful collaborations, little time to communicate. The fraction of achievement to unit work is grossly suboptimal. A few especially energetic and brilliant people manage to thrive, but their work is buried in the vast array of mediocrity that fills the paper journals.
It seems to me that we need to restructure the design of the whole system. We can’t add new demands without loosening existing ones. There needs to be ways to fit in a range of talents. The emphasis on gathering information needs to be reduced in favor of vetting it and communicating it. We need more time to think and less time proposing to think. We need to think critically about others’ work and generously about them as people rather than the other way round.
It’s amazing how much gets done in spite of all this. Imagine what could be achieved if we weren’t working with ridiculous antiquated managerial structures.
Update: Interesting, if only tangentially relevant musings here, again via Atmoz:
Even if cognitive enhancers had the potential to shift the standings in the competitions between students and between scholars to a dramatic degree, should we say that there’s a problem with the use of these drugs — or instead with the way the system is set up? Is it more unfair that some professors use a drug that gives them the mental energy to grade papers until 3 AM, or that the workload on professors is such that they have to stay up grading papers until 3 AM in order to have time to meet the obligations of their job?