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One more cartoon like this, and this blog will be obsolete.

This post is by Phil.

This SMBC cartoon seems to wrap up about half of the content of this blog. 

Of course I’m exaggerating. There will still be room for book reviews and cat photos.

23 Comments

  1. Oliver C. Schultheiss says:

    You’re not really exaggerating. That’s probably all there is to say about science now. At least the key stuff. The rest is details, easily filled in with our trusty false-positive techniques…

    Thanks for sharing! I’ll use the cartoon for teaching purposes.

  2. Adede says:

    I’m usually a fan of SMBC, but the cartoon just came across as long-winded and preachy. Maybe because it’s not Wienersmith’s original material.

    • Agreed. It’s basically a dull text summary with unnecessary pictures. (SMBC is usually quite good, and often fantastic.) The book is on my list of things to read. If this summary is accurate, the proposed solutions to science’s problems seem rather unrealistic / superficial. But I shouldn’t judge before reading it…

    • Dylan O'Connell says:

      You might find it annoying & preachy regardless, but this isn’t really meant to be a “comic” in the sense of his usual ones, it’s really just an introduction to a specific book. So it’s not trying to do what comics normally try and do, it’s meant to be a dry introduction.

  3. Christian Hennig says:

    Science could be so great without all those annoying people in it, so the solution is getting rid of the people?

  4. Len Covello says:

    I must be a nerd.
    I’m not even an academic and this is one of the only things I’ve read in the last couple of years that actually caused me to laugh out loud.
    Brilliant.

  5. Dylan O'Connell says:

    For what it’s worth, I really loved reading “Science Fictions” (the comic is a visual introduction to the book) this summer, would love to see it reviewed on the blog? It’s fairly basic, and only a minority of it is devoted to the usual statistical practices focused on here. But while all these concerns about science are spread out among many active blogs, I haven’t found many other good basic introductions to the topic, and I thought the book did a nice job.

    • Andrew says:

      Dylan:

      I’ve not seen the ebook, so I can’t comment one way or another. The summary in the cartoon made me think that when we talk about science, we focus too much on academia and not enough on the science done by people working in government and industry, where the incentives are much different.

      • Phil says:

        This is a good point. For my last five or six years at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the people managing and evaluating my Department of Energy grants couldn’t have cared less about peer-reviewed publications. Indeed, some of them said they did not want me “wasting grant money” that way. And since 100% of my funding came from grants, this mattered a lot. I’m not sure whether that’s specific to those specific grant officers, or to the Building Technologies Office that was providing most of my funding at that point, or something else. At any rate there was less than zero emphasis on getting work into journals. What they wanted was “products” — prototype software, mostly, but sometimes just a data analysis focused on whether some technology was or wasn’t delivering on expectations. FWIW this was a change from my previous funding at LBNL, for which publications were encouraged or at least tolerated.

        On the other hand, my annual evaluations by the Lab still emphasized publications, and if I didn’t have at least a few journal articles per year I would get dinged for it (mostly just in the form of a less-good annual evaluation, but also a lower salary increase).

        Put these facts together and in essence I was supposed to write journal articles in my spare time. I’m not complaining, it was a fine job and I enjoyed much of the work, but it was certainly an incoherent set of incentives that were very different from academic incentives.

        • Michael Nelson says:

          Was their policy seen as a punishment for employees who didn’t publish, or a reward for those who did? I wouldn’t mind the latter, as long as it was based on quality, not quantity. “Verily, I say unto you: those who do not write journal articles in their spare time have their reward, in the form of a healthy work-life balance!”

          • Phil says:

            For a “staff scientist,” which I was, publication is an explicit expectation of the job. If you aren’t publishing in ‘refereed archival journals’ you are literally not doing your job. Which is fine with me! Actually I’m not sure it’s still true, since I left over five years ago, but waaaaay back in 2015 and before, journals were how you distributed your findings, so a publication requirement made a lot of sense: there’s no point doing research if you don’t share the results with other people, and journals were the way we did that.

            Nowadays it might be better to make a public git repository with your data and analysis code, and ‘advertise’ it on the the most prominent blogs that are related to your field, than to go to the time and effort of writing a journal article, then wait while it gets reviewed, goes through the time-consuming publication process, and is eventually published behind a paywall. Perhaps LBNL should revise its job expectations to reflect this, if they haven’t already; I am still in contact with friends from the Lab and will ask them sometime. I don’t think there’s been a change, though: I think the job still explicitly calls for publications.

            • Andrew says:

              Phil:

              +1 on your comment: “back in 2015 and before, journals were how you distributed your findings, so a publication requirement made a lot of sense: there’s no point doing research if you don’t share the results with other people, and journals were the way we did that.”

              They say “publish or perish,” but if you don’t publish, that’s almost equivalent to your work perishing. Not completely, as you can communicate your idea with people one-on-one or in small groups, but publishing is most of it.

              What should be published, and how much should be published, is another question. The current system incentivizes people like the beauty-and-sex-ratio researcher and the gremlins guy (search blog for more on them), who have a real talent for packaging bad ideas and getting them published in journals.

            • Michael Nelson says:

              Having been a salaried employee on soft money my entire career, I have long rued that, if I’m doing something that’s an explicit job expectation, then by definition it’s not in my spare time!

              • Phil says:

                Depends on the definition of “spare time.” If the finders aren’t willing to pay for it then it’s unpaid time, at least theoretically. Of course I actually wrote my papers mostly during work hours, ‘cause how would they know and what would they do anyway? But I certainly published less than I would have if my sponsors were willing to pay me to write the papers.

  6. Michael Nelson says:

    Here’s my “pictureless” cartoon in response:

    Science critic (SC): “There is something broken in the academic institutions of science!”
    Me: “We know. How do we fix it?”
    SC: “We replace perverse incentives with non-perverse incentives.”
    Me: “Right. How do we do that?”
    SC: “We change the institutions so that they no longer incentivize perverse behavior.”
    Me: “Right. How do we do that?”
    SC: “The people who work in and with the institutions stop responding to the incentives.”
    Me: “Sure, but how do we incentivize people to stop responding to the perverse incentives and to start changing them?”
    SC: “…”
    Me: “?”
    SC: “There are TWO things broken in the academic institutions of science!”

  7. Renzo Alves says:

    The problem can be solved simply by not hiring or promoting people who are evil (racists, sexists, ageists, lessabledists, etc.) and incompetent. That should be decided by committees of people who have correct understanding and morals, and are competent.
    On the other hand……

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