Politics in the lab: same everywhere

Politics slips into everything. From the moment you turn on the TV at home to the minute you open the newspaper to read while you drink your morning coffee and even here, in the lab when it comes the time to discuss budgets and project proposals.

But it is not just the good-ol’ politics that comes into the lab thrashing everything around with budget cuts and bureaucratic nightmares, nooooooo, then we also have her sister, scientific politics, the one left to decide which projects are to be made based on their future impact determined by where they are to be published; who deserves a tenure, a permanent position, or a scholarship.

Because like all politics, the scientific sister is also corrupted to the bone. Please do not be mistaken, dear noobies. The scientific ladder is anything but meritocratic. At school they teach that if you study, you get good grades and if so, then you´ll manage to land a good job and eventually climb up that ladder. Well, if you haven´t found it already. They lied. And that also goes for Science.

In Science most of the guys sitting in the old leather chairs are not the smartest nor the best of their field nor do they make the best quality science. They are, however, those that publish in high impact factor journals (like Science, Cell or Nature), and/or have friends in selection committees or by one of those un-investigated phenomena of faculty inbreeding that says that someone born and developed in X University or Department is necessarily better than any other qualified applicant, even if the former never left that University/Department and has a worse CV. Considering the first choosing factor is not bad per se. If we take for granted the impact factor (a factor that results from considering the number of times the articles of a certain journal have been referenced during a year, and indicative of the relevance of those articles for the advance of a certain field or Science, in general) really measures what it should -and that of OpenAccess is another story- then what those scientists publish should be high quality, but it so happens that -just as in the real world- once you have a NAME it becomes much much easier to publish a not-so-relevant piece of research in a top-notch journal than if you are Mr.Nobody. Even if Mr.Nobody’s paper is of higher quality.

And so, what we have is a feedback system in which Science doesn’t improve because all that matters is publishing in those big journals instead of trying to do high quality research or just study interesting topics. That’s business, my friend. That’s capitalism, my friend.

The system is so corrupted that there’s those who say that real power in Science comes not from how much someone has advanced scientific knowlegde but by how much can they impede it. Better with an example. Postdoc T. tries to publish an article which results contest BigFish’s theory which has been accepted in the field for more than 20 years. Since naïve Postdoc T. still believes in Science, asks BigFish to be a reviewer thinking that he would be interested in knowing there might be more to learn from the system he’s been researching so long. ERROR! BigFish doesn’t even consider the hypothesis or the paper worth anything and rejects the paper. Because BigFish has made it to the top of the scientific ladder.

There are other examples.Positive ones. Examples of hard working people who deserve to be where they are. But those are a minority. And it is sad. And annoying.

It is time to start a revolution also in Science. We need new working structures, new evaluation standards and also changes in the publication system. And we need them NOW! #SciRev
p.d. As for how the change in the publishing and distribution network should happen, that is the shift to OpenAccess check TheGuardian