Posts Tagged ‘h-index’

Why are there so few high quality science communicators?

May 22, 2014

 

If civilization was a person, the scientific method, and the knowledge gained from it would not only constitute the brain and heart, but also all the major organs necessary to support life.  Or to put it another way, without the scientific method and the knowledge gained by it, civilization as we know it would cease to be, and we would be back to living in a very VERY bleak world.

Sadly societies in general seem to be happily, maybe even wilfully ignorant of just how much our civilization and quality of life depends on this method, and the knowledge gain by it. So why is this? Who, if anyone is to blame?

Well scientists have to take their share of the blame for this, in that if anyone can promote science, it’s them.  However speaking as a research scientist I KNOW why communicating science/ debunking pseudoscience (in science circles) is generally seen as a gamma rate objective, typically only pursued by betas.

The metrics by which scientists typically measure their success is by how much research money they bring in, and how much stuff they publish.  Nowhere in this equation is communicating science valued or rewarded.

-Communicating science takes time, which practically means the more time you spend communicating science, the less time there is to ‘succeed’ in the metrics used to determine success.

 

In many ways science has been corrupted by the access to data.  20 years ago, there were no easily accessible ‘metrics of success’ like the h-index and citations.  People didn’t/ couldn’t waste as much time worrying about it.  Now things like the h-index can be easily obtained with a few mouse clicks and are widely accepted and used for determining the success of an academic.  The game has slowly changed from ‘who can do the best research’ to ‘who can get the better h-factor’.  Now this is not to say the h-index has no value, in that it is correlated to the achievements of an academic but the correlations is not great and more importantly the index is relatively easy to game for personal advantage.

 

That’s really it in a nutshell.  Once you have defined a metric for success, it is expected that people will try to optimize how they score on that metric….. they will start to game the system.  This is the research equivalent of that often heard student question ‘will this be on the test’.  That’s the tipping point between where the student has gone from being there to actually learn, to being there to simply get the highest mark they can on the test.

 

Simply put, if ‘success as defined by h-index’ is what you are after, gaming the system is now the name of the game. Or put another way, if you are honestly doing the best science you can, you will not be able to compete in ‘success metrics’ with an equally talented scientist who’s playing the game of ‘winning in success metrics’.

 

If the system is set up such that scientists have no incentives for communicating science, then it is small wonder that there are so few high quality science communicators out there?

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