Chief Scientist Finkel asks the question: are we at “peak paper”

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel was in his usual state of informed optimism when he addressed the Postgraduate Research Conference yesterday. For a start, he explained why this worst of all possible worlds, could be, well, worse, and he urged PhD students to ignore those who say working life is worth only worth working in universities. “I have no patience for people who tell me that a person with a PhD who starts a company, or goes into the public service, is a waste of a good academic researcher. The purpose of a PhD is to allow talented people to develop their strengths and choose their direction,” Dr Finkel said – he should know, it’s what he did.

The CS also set out his big questions for the research system, including:

the future for the scientific paper: “the peer review system is critically overloaded. Page charges are high, and so the critically important methods section is left out. Alternatives pop up overnight because the barriers to entry are low. And the irony is, we’re working so hard to generate papers, we don’t have time to read anybody else’s.” So are we at peak paper? The doctor says no, “the scientific paper has endured for a reason, and it still holds. It’s an efficient way to structure and communicate information.”

pressure to publish: “let’s contemplate a rule that you can only list a maximum of five papers for any given year when applying for grants or promotions.

dedicated funding for replication studies: “should we consider awards for high-quality studies that yield negative results and don’t confirm a hypothesis or previous finding?

an ethical journal stamp: to demonstrate sources of quality research and distinguish them from predatory journals for “people in the community who aren’t scientists, and don’t know anything about impact factors and journal rankings and editorial standards.”


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