The incredible specialization and focus of scientists has amazing benefits, and provides the opportunity to develop things and knowledge and wonder. But there are drawbacks. One of them is an ease of ignoring the outside world. Matt Night gets at this well in his explanation of Ph.D. programs (the last three pictures are most relevant for this post).
I don’t consider this an intentional or malicious thing. But it can be striking when you see it, especially when applied to the health and/or future of science. Two examples:
GrrlScientist explains at The Guardian‘s Punctuated Equilibrium blog why Open Science projects aren’t likely to work. She’s not wrong, as far as she goes. The lack of traditional credit in crowdsourced and other group projects that are enabled by new technologies will make it difficult for academics (certainly those employed by traditional universities) to support and participate in these projects. The projects just don’t have (at least right now) the kind of incentive and rewards that feed into academic promotion and prestige.
But what university academics do with Open Science is just a small part of what could contribute to its success. As the folks at Science for Citizens and other projects might say, Open Science can easily be supported by the works of committed non-scientists. While some may look at these kinds of projects and just see volunteers pricing out grad students from research work, there is also the ability of local groups to work together and conduct research that wouldn’t otherwise be done. I’m most familiar with this in the context of cancer cluster research in Louisiana, where neighborhoods conducted their own research to fill in the gaps of epidemiological research that could not explain symptoms in certain areas.
So Open Science has value, but it may not be for traditional scientists just yet.
In today’s other example we have a scientist throwing his hands up over a problem of academic employment – producing more Ph.D holders than could be employed in academia. The only options discussed are increasing the supply of academic job or decreasing the supply of Ph.D. holders. Again, he’s not wrong, as far as he goes. But he doesn’t go that far. No mention of non-academic options for Ph.D. holders. No mention of the value of a science Ph.D. in other careers. So its the status quo from a lack of imagination? Disappointing.
It’s this narrow focus on what’s good for science and scientists that makes me think we need more non-scientists in science and technology policy. Otherwise we just have allies of a special interest group thinking just of one class of beneficiary of science and technology policy. I can dream.