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Jacobin - July 2018

Furthermore, scientists who are preoccupied chasing grants and citations lose opportunities for careful contemplation and deep exploration, which are necessary to uncover complex truths. Peter Higgs, the British theoretical physicist who in 1964 predicted the existence of the Higgs boson particle, told the Guardian upon receiving the Nobel Prize in 2013 that he would never have been able to make his breakthrough in the current academic environment.

The university existed before capitalism, and has sometimes resisted obedience to the dictates of the capitalist market, pursuing not profit but truth and knowledge. But capitalism devours what it can, and as it extends its domination, it comes as little surprise that the modern university becomes increasingly subservient to what Ellen Meiksins Wood calls “the dictates of the capitalist market — its imperatives of competition, accumulation, profit-maximization, and increasing labour-productivity.”

In academia, that imperative manifests itself in visible ways: publish or perish, funding or famine.

Without public investment, universities are compelled to play by private sector rules, i.e., to operate like businesses. Businesses, of course, are all about the bottom line — and the health of the bottom line depends on profit maximization, which in turn depends on careful and constant evaluation of inputs and outputs. The result for academic science, according to researchers Marc A. Edwards and Siddhartha Roy in their paper “Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition,” has been the introduction of a new regime of quantitative performance metrics, which governs almost everything scientific researchers do and has observable impacts on their work practices.

These metrics and benchmarks include “publication count, citations, combined citation-publication counts (e.g., h-index), journal impact factors (JIF), total research dollars, and total patents.” Edwards and Roy observe that “these quantitative metrics now dominate decision-making in faculty hiring, promotion and tenure, awards, and funding.” As a result, academic scientists are increasingly driven by a frenzied desire to get their research funded, published and cited. “Scientific output as measured by cited work has doubled every 9 years since about World War II,” note Edwards and Roy. ...
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