There needs to be a shift from quantity to quality in the world of research given “a growing rumble of concern about the rigour and reproducibility of published research”, argues Dr Alan Finkel AO FTSE, writing in Nature.
Dr Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist and former President of the Academy, continued: “Problems of over-hyped analysis and puffed-up CVs are well recognised. Financial and career incentives keep researchers on a treadmill, churning out papers.
“We cannot know how many of the 1.6 million or so papers now added every year to the Web of Science database are flawed as a consequence, but we can agree that our focus has to shift from quantity to quality if we are to safeguard against shoddy work.”
As to answers, Dr Finkel argues that: “More than anything, we must abandon the assumption that a passive apprentice system works …
“Institutions must provide explicit instruction in research integrity, data management and professional expectations.”
Further, institutions should also be required to train PhD supervisors in mentorship, and on leaders’ roles in creating a healthy research culture.
“Supervisors and mentors should be judged not by head count, but by impact statements about the projects and career progression of at least two PhD students; ideally, at least one woman and one man. I know of no institutions that currently require such a practice.”
Dr Finkel also called for an end to counting papers as a metric for evaluating researchers.
“One alternative approach, the Rule of Five, demonstrates a clear commitment to quality: candidates present their best five papers over the past five years, accompanied by a description of the research, its impact and their individual contribution.
“The exact numbers are immaterial: what matters is the focus on quality.”