Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

One Eye on the Future

Credit: mitarart/Adobe

Credit: mitarart/Adobe

By John L. Bradshaw

The newly appreciated relevance of pupillary studies conducted in the 1960s provides a cautionary tale about the modern metrics used to evaluate which research projects should gain funding.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Recently Australia’s research scientists were asked to prepare an updated report on their productivity over the previous year. Increasingly scientists, by profession generators of new knowledge, are being squeezed into an alien, business-speak model of operation. It is now less a matter of scientific discovery for its own sake – providing us with further insights into the underlying nature of physical, biological, medical, chemical and mathematical matters – and more an attempt at a quantitative assessment of performance output in a world that is increasingly competitive for research funding and career advancement. Quality, significance and other aspects of academic excellence now play second fiddle to crude numerical measures and models.

Not so very long ago the rot set in when an academic’s number of published papers provided the basic metric. As a result, to gain kudos for our institution, we were even encouraged to aim in our writing for the “smallest publishable unit” by salami-slicing our limited findings into as many publishable papers as possible.

Consequently, ever more journals sprouted, mushroom- like in the fields of academia, to accommodate all the new papers appearing, generating boom times for commercial publishing houses as scientists struggled to force out yet another paper. Then, of course, the tide turned and we were now encouraged to aim...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.