It is no secret that the current President of the United States of America exhibits disdain for research. His well documented attitude towards research on climate change belies highlighted disdain for each of research, and the research process.
As a person who has spent most of his adult life as a researcher, clearly I am not enamored with disdain for research, more especially when disdain spews from persons who have considerable power over resources that can be applied to facilitation of good research.
Clearly, disdain for research is wrong. The cars we drive, the houses we live in, the computers on which we write, the tractors that make it possible for less than 5% of the population to produce enough food for everyone, the trips to the moon, the weapons of mass destruction, the internet etc. all are outcomes of good research. So also are research in disciplines such as Finance and Economics that enable well functioning of markets for capital.
In absence of capital markets that facilitate mortgages and car notes, exactly what proportion of Americans would have capacity for living the good life?
It was in part research in Finance (Carhart 1997), which showed the averagely performing mutual fund did not outperform the S&P500, that led to removal of upfront (load) fees by most mutual funds.
Employees of corporations are able to receive stock option grants only because, combined, Merton (1973) and Black and Scholes (1973) developed valuation models for pricing of options.
While disdain for research is normatively wrong in a world within which research, and the research process function idealistically (for advancement of frontiers of knowledge), newfound politicization of the research and publication process provides some justification for newfound disdain for research.
Recently, I read a theory article in a journal ranked #4 in Finance within which the authors, who were attempting to establish that a phenomenon subsists under steady states (in equilibrium), confirmed validity of their model by assuming that the phenomenon does indeed subsist under steady state conditions. In yet another article in a journal ranked #1 in Finance, there was not any mathematical algebraic proof provided for a phenomenon that is predicted to subsist in equilibrium.
If top journals in different disciplines are willing to publish such nonsense, how exactly are people, such as Donald Trump, not to arrive at disdain for research, the research process, and journal publications?
It is a fact of science that rejections of scientific studies ought to be based on well articulated scientific objections, not sentiments and opinions. This standard, however, is becoming more the exception than the norm.
With tenure decisions now tied to journal publications, reviewers no longer are altruistic reviewers of others’ scientific work, see work that they review as competition. We arrive then at the inference that the research and publication process have become politicized. In respect of politicization, reviewers have been known to reject scientific studies with variants of the following sort of statement:
“I do not think that this paper should be published in a journal of this quality.”
How exactly is it reasonable for a scientific study to be rejected on basis of a non-substantiated subjective opinion?
With respect to editors’ responses to submitted articles whose merits are scientific, but which they decide to desk reject (not send out for review), the following sort of statement has become more the norm than the exception.
“We do not think that our readers will find this article of interest.”
By this token, with only about 10% of physicists reputed to be able to understand the proof of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity at timing of it’s assessment by Einstein’s peers, with outcome 90% of physicists would have lacked interest, Einstein’s famous work probably now still lies on a dusty shelf somewhere in archives of one of his descendants. The entire world of course would have been the worse for it, for it is normative that Einstein’s work has contributed to overall welfare of mankind.
If the research and publication process have become politicized, why should a Donald Trump not hold research in disdain?
After all, a politicized research process is not any different from fibbing on part of politicians that gets them elected into political office.
Sounds implausible? Well, consider that researchers at two top universities in North Carolina — Duke University and the University of North Carolina — recently were found guilty of falsifying research outcomes, in part for earning of grants from government agencies.
The reason research is domiciled in universities, which typically are not-for-profits, is for facilitation of a firewall between researchers and consumers of research outside of universities, is for ensuring research outcomes are not biased or falsified by profit or political interests. For achievement of this objective, in developed countries, governments are huge sources of funding for research, with outcome there exists public interest in well functioning of the research and publications process.
The tenure system was designed for protection of researchers, ensured university administrators could not be pressured by either of for-profit interests or government officials to fire a professor merely because his or her research draws ire in some quarters. The tenure system since has devolved into opportunity for lifetime guaranteed income, a phenomenon that intensifies politicization of research, the research process, and the publications process.
What then has happened to research, and the research process?
Contrary to purpose of research, which is, advancement of frontiers of knowledge for benefit of society at large, academics have become the largest consumers of academic research, with outcome research has become mostly a tool for professional advancement, as opposed to a tool for advancement of frontiers of knowledge.
With academics the largest consumers of academic research, politicization of the publications process became inevitable, with outcome it is research that rubs egos of established professors the right way that are easiest to publish.
But does this not imply that research no longer serves it’s main purpose, which is advancement of frontiers of knowledge?
If academics desire disdain for research that is accumulating in society be reversed, it is time for academics to begin to care about quality of research, about integrity of research, and about depoliticization of the research and publications process.
It is a travesty for researchers to demand respect for research, and the research process, yet have it be evident that they themselves no longer demonstrate any respect for normative scientific principles that are underpinnings of research processes that advance frontiers of knowledge.
If research and the research process have become more about who you know, more about networks, and sizes of networks, as opposed to quality of research, how exactly are researchers any different from politicians?
If research is about how many votes a researcher can acquire from his or her colleagues, as opposed to scientific merits of research outcomes that are well articulated, research and the research process deserve any disdain that they receive from Donald Trump and his cohorts.