The pace of real science

“[Current mass science] does not operate at the pace of real science, but at the pace of management […]. Six monthly appraisals, yearly job plans, three yearly grants and so on. (All evaluations being determined by committee and bureaucracy, rather than by individuals.)”

So says Bruce Charlton, Professor of Theoretical Medicine at the University of Buckingham, here

The same can be said for academia in general.

In game design, if one has designed a feature before, then if the new feature is fairly similar, and one can imagine how to implement it, then one can give a rough approximation of the time involved. If the feature is completely terra nova, then there’s no way to know how much time it will take. One instead can start, see how it goes, and start to get a better idea of how long it will take as one gets more into implementing it.

This is relevant for bureaucratic science, where ‘goals’ are set for what will be discovered by what time, or where certain units of predictable progress are expected. This sort of managerial approach to science is a misunderstanding of what scientific exploration is when it comes to terra nova areas of science.

Using number of papers to judge scientific progress is similar to a managerial approach used in coding – using lines of code to judge progress. The latter is a pretty poor metric. Often, this just leads to code bloat, bugs, and so on. Similarly, in science (or academia in general) judging things by the number of papers leads to ‘knowledge bloat’ (a high noise:signal ratio in terms of valuable things being written), and I am guessing to other problems.

2 thoughts on “The pace of real science

  1. Bruce G Charlton

    Indeed – I have worked in other areas of academia, especially english literature, where the real underlying pace is is considerably slower than science. The pace could be measured in terms of time between publication of a communication (e.g. a new piece of information is communicated) and a publication responding to that communication (e.g. after new information has been noted and further work done in the light of that new information, this then being communicated). The ‘debates’ in english literary scholarship often had many years between their cycles.

    The big question is whether the routinization and professionalization and eventual irrelevance of academia and science is avoidable; or whether this is an inevitable consequence of functional differentiation- of specialization. I suspect it is unavoidable. Science (and academia) is self-destroying.

  2. admin Post author

    I’m curious about why you think that specialization -> routinization and professionalization.

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