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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Profit or perish

Profit or perish even worse than publish or perish
Michael Alvarez, in his Recruiters article 'System-ready scientists' (Nature 447, 612; 2007) advises young scientists to consider how they can fit into and enhance the labour force, even though this course might seem dehumanizing to them. He advises universities to gather information from government and industry about their 'design specifications' for incoming talent, to help them develop graduate training programmes that produce suitably qualified trainees.
I believe such an approach is a backwards step. Many scientists study and do research out of irrepressible curiosity and sheer love for the subject. It is true that the US academic funding system created a glut of postdoctoral researchers who have had to find alternatives to conventional career paths, but 'publish or perish' is a relatively harmless dictum compared with 'profit or perish'.
Rather than helping universities strip the creativity, intuition and joy of discovery from scientists while they train, government and industry should be willing to spend money, within their pragmatic frameworks, to acknowledge that scientific research is a fundamentally creative pursuit.
Edward Kiegle, Moonshine Mushrooms, PO Box 927, 251 Putnam Hill Road, Chester, Vermont 05143, USA.
Nature 448, 533 (2 August 2007).

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