The 7 biggest problems facing science, according to 270 scientists by Julia Belluz, Brad Plumer, and Brian Resnick at Vox is an excellent overview of some of the most serious problems, with pointers to efforts to fix them. Their 7 are:
- Academia has a huge money problem:
In the United States, academic researchers in the sciences generally cannot rely on university funding alone to pay for their salaries, assistants, and lab costs. Instead, they have to seek outside grants. "In many cases the expectations were and often still are that faculty should cover at least 75 percent of the salary on grants," writes John Chatham, ... Grants also usually expire after three or so years, which pushes scientists away from long-term projects. Yet as John Pooley ... points out, the biggest discoveries usually take decades to uncover and are unlikely to occur under short-term funding schemes.
- Too many studies are poorly designed:
An estimated $200 billion — or the equivalent of 85 percent of global spending on research — is routinely wasted on poorly designed and redundant studies, according to meta-researchers who have analyzed inefficiencies in research. We know that as much as 30 percent of the most influential original medical research papers later turn out to be wrong or exaggerated.
- Replicating results is crucial — and rare:
A 2015 study looked at 83 highly cited studies that claimed to feature effective psychiatric treatments. Only 16 had ever been successfully replicated. Another 16 were contradicted by follow-up attempts, and 11 were found to have substantially smaller effects the second time around. Meanwhile, nearly half of the studies (40) had never been subject to replication at all.
- Peer review is broken:
numerous studies and systematic reviews have shown that peer review doesn’t reliably prevent poor-quality science from being published.
- Too much science is locked behind paywalls:
"Large, publicly owned publishing companies make huge profits off of scientists by publishing our science and then selling it back to the university libraries at a massive profit (which primarily benefits stockholders)," Corina Logan, an animal behavior researcher at the University of Cambridge, noted. "It is not in the best interest of the society, the scientists, the public, or the research." (In 2014, Elsevier reported a profit margin of nearly 40 percent and revenues close to $3 billion.)
- Science is poorly communicated:
Science journalism is often full of exaggerated, conflicting, or outright misleading claims. If you ever want to see a perfect example of this, check out "Kill or Cure," a site where Paul Battley meticulously documents all the times the Daily Mail reported that various items — from antacids to yogurt — either cause cancer, prevent cancer, or sometimes do both.
Indeed, one review in BMJ found that one-third of university press releases contained either exaggerated claims of causation (when the study itself only suggested correlation), unwarranted implications about animal studies for people, or unfounded health advice.
- Life as a young academic is incredibly stressful:
A 2015 study at the University of California Berkeley found that 47 percent of PhD students surveyed could be considered depressed
Dr. Larson and his colleagues calculated R0s for various science fields in academia. There, R0 is the average number of Ph.D.s that a tenure-track professor will graduate over the course of his or her career, with an R0 of one meaning each professor is replaced by one new Ph.D. The highest R0 is in environmental engineering, at 19.0. It is lower — 6.3 — in biological and medical sciences combined, but that still means that for every new Ph.D. who gets a tenure-track academic job, 5.3 will be shut out. In other words, Dr. Larson said, 84 percent of new Ph.D.s in biomedicine “should be pursuing other opportunities” — jobs in industry or elsewhere, for example, that are not meant to lead to a professorship.Again, amen. A friend of mine spotted this problem years ago and has been making a business advising grad students and post-docs how to transition to "real work".