Sunday, January 17, 2010

Eroding trust

An interesting editorial by Professor Balaram, in which he states,

In countries like China and India the drive to increase the number of publications by offering incentives can be dangerously corrupting. Some institutions offer monetary incentives for publishing papers, scaled by journal impact factors. There cannot be a better catalyst for promoting dubious practices in science. In India, a bloated reward system offers monetary incentives of various kinds, ostensibly for enhancing research performance. The monthly bonus offered to scientists who are elected to fellowships of two academies or those who receive  CSIR’s  Bhatnagar  awards  are  examples  of schemes that will promote a scramble for these accolades. The DST’s J. C. Bose Fellowship, which should really provide stable research support, now carries an enhanced monthly bonus. This profusion of monetary incentives for ‘performing scientists’ has distorted the view of many researchers. A long list of publications, preferably in journals with high impact factors, is sometimes desirable in order to enter the ‘circle of recognition’. For a privileged few, pedigree and connections may suffice. Some years ago none of this may have really mattered. Unfortunately, attaching a regular monetary bonus to Academy fellowships, the J. C. Bose fellowship and Bhatnagar awards distorts the view of many practitioners of science. Research must be enjoyable, satisfying and intellectually stimulating. Publications must be a measure of the enthusiasm that scientists have for their disciplines. The pursuit of recognition and reward cannot become an end in itself.

A similar sentiment is echoed in an article by my colleagues, Diptiman Sen and S. Ramasesha and in another article by A. Pasupathy. For example, they state,

One can surely think  of  many  reasonable  ways  of encouraging high quality research without giving long-term personal rewards for work done over a period of about 10-15 years. Therefore, paying an honorarium to individuals seems to be a particularly  ham-handed  way  of  recognizing scientific merit.


Pratik Ray said...

Interesting post. However, I fail to see why monetary rewards for Bhatnagar award should be considered as a "catalyst for promoting dubious practices in science." The Nobel, I think, has a cash award of over a million dollar, and nobody ever remarked this prize to be a catalyst for dubious practices.

On the other hand, cash awards for large number of publications might promote malpractices, that I can understand. But I really cant comprehend that as long as the awards are based on quality rather than quantity.

AD said...

This is because many awards in India are given based on lobbying, connections and not even on the number of publications. Attaching a lifelong monetary benefit for this reward ensures that lobbying and connections will become more.

I should hasten to add that the blog owner is richly deserving of the award and so are many others. However, possibly an equal number is undeserving. Further, read the article by pasupathy; the output of the award winners dramatically decreases after the award.

SR said...

Pratik: You are ignoring the point. Nobel is an one time cas award. Bhatnagar also used to be like that. No one complained. Now, once you get the Bhatnagar award or fellowships of academies, it pays you for life irrespective of performance thereafter. One time award is fine but not payment for life for work done when you were 35-40.

SM said...

Prof Balaram sees it in black and white. He feels research should be driven only by inner desire and considers external (monetary) incentives somehow a sin. What we should instead explore is to bring more transparency into the selection procedure and keep the monetary benefits as an attraction. This will ensure a huge amount of fair competition among the researchers which is only good for science.

I do agree with the suggestion that one should have such prizes for scientists upto 55/60 years old. This would hopefully decrease the post 45 (post award) syndrome.

Hari said...

I am a regular reader of your blog. I thought you may be interested in some of the articles by Prof. Flder. And you may like to comment on the issue of SUPERHUMAN PROFESSOR!

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time, academics were taught early on in their careers that they must write a paper when they felt they had a new story to tell. Most researchers held out patiently till they had a complete picture and a nice meaty insightful article to submit. A selected few even opted to write only a few papers and keep the best unpublished stuff for monographs.

This is not the case anymore. Increasingly many journal articles are a salami-sliced diary of work containing very little positive contributions. This is often premeditated. Worryingly, it is now considered acceptable for a group to develop a new theory, simulation method or experimental setup but then proceed with writing a string of articles (each containing essentially the same contribution but with results for different boundary conditions or parameter settings) submitted concurrently to half a dozen journals or so.

Even if the central idea underpinning that work new, is this mode of research dissemination really ethical? Wouldn't it have been more useful to write a single article or two and not have the readers run around picking up bits and pieces from papers all over the place? Have these authors forgotten that they are writing these papers to communicate their findings to their respective communities and not to simply ensure that they can populate their publication list with the maximum possible number of entries. With the advent of electronic publishing, it is much easier to work out who are guilty of such practices. I am a bit worried that many Indian academics are now joining their American and Chinese colleagues in perpetuating such practices. This is not surprising given the monetary incentives that are at stake with all these fellowships.

IEEE is perhaps one of the few professional bodies who have successfully enforced their strict policy on self-plagiarism and duplication of methodology/results (even from their own conference series!). They continue to reject many well-written seemingly novel articles submitted for review on such grounds. In several fields, however, many researchers don't seem to have got the message that self-plagiarism is unethical and they are doing themselves and their communities a disservice by engaging in this practice.

On the other hand, several researchers feel compelled or self-righteously feel that writing an article is justified simply because they have spent a significant chunk of time and effort working on something (even if it led to nothing new). With the right kind of spin-doctoring and good writing skills, anything is eventually publishable in a majority of fields.

The literature is now increasingly becoming choked with papers that contain very little contributions (or in several cases negative contributions). Thankfully, there are always some (often) well-established researchers in every field who continue to fascinate us with interesting stories and ideas in every article they write. Unfortunately, however, good papers written by new researchers entering a field are much harder to locate now because of all the dressed up cr*p one has to wade through.

Gengatopathy Acharya

Anonymous said...

Dear Prof. Dr. Mr. Gengatopathy Acharya-ji:

People writing multiple papers on the same subject is not different from you posting the same thing in different posts. You posted the same message (written differently) under the post statistics and now you post it here. It is all the same thing.

"Thankfully, there are always some (often) well-established researchers in every field who continue to fascinate us"

From the way you write, you are certainly not one of them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you anon for pointing this out. After comparing my posts, I can see for myself that I am guilty of self-plagiarism. I will now have to stop ranting on this forum.

"From the way you write, you are certainly not one of them."

This was uncalled for and won't elicit a response from me. I am not here to flame any individuals, especially fellow anons.

Gengatopathy Acharya

Anonymous said...

To Award or not to Award

This is a big question. The monetary rewards for SSB's and fellows of the two academies are good if the selection or election process is transparent. But most of the awards in our country is not decided on merit. If any one is curious, just prepare the statistics of the awardees and make a systematic study. You will find it is certainly based on regionalism, language, the network of the awardee, etc.. Recently 59 fellows were elected to Bangalore academy. Please visit some of their sites and look at their publications and their impact. It is horrible. One wonders how they were elected and what is the strategy adapted for rejection of others. Let alone the contributions of the elected fellows. Please visit the sites of the members of the sectional committe and also the council. You will certainly agree lot of them dont deserve to be in the committee. Alas! these are the group of people who shape the future of the science in our country!!!

Sorry to take the language bias. Every year, there is one SSB from IISc (majority of the times, a tamilian). It reflects one of the two things, either these SSB's are genetically brilliant or the selection committee members are genetically biased.

Why dont we adopt the transparent policy. Put some standards to receive the nominations. Then call these nominees to make a presentation of their work. Let other scientists including the selection committee members be present. Then nominees can make an assessement of their work relative to others. The committee members will not be able to push their candidates (Although I am not sure, these members are big politicians and can interpret in an appropriate way to reward them). When ever these awards and fellowships are made public, the committee should also cite the reasons clearly why they were selected (which they cannot as they are incompetent to do that!!). They should also given a short summary of the weaknesses of other nominees.

I do agree, even for nobel prize the selection is made in a closed room.

But note, this concept does not work in India, where every member of any selection committee is a politician.

Given these conditions, the question is whether financial rewards are to be given or not!!

I have no answer.

Anonymous said...

"Sorry to take the language bias. Every year, there is one SSB from IISc (majority of the times, a tamilian)."

This seems to be a direct insinuation against the blog owner. I looked up the record here,

I do not see any fault in him getting the award.

Anonymous said...

Not to insinuate the blog owner. My deepest apologies for this.

This is a general statement as observed. I did visit the site mentioned

the blog owner is doing extraordinarily in his research work. No doubts and comments on the individual.

In the general statement, if we say Indian science is bad, doesnot mean every one is bad. There are exceptions, so also the blog owner.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, Bengali and Tamilian academic mafias tend to work much more cohesively. Do not underestimate their lobbying power and never mess with them if you wish to be in the running for such national awards.

Giri@iisc said...

Didn't check my blog over the weekend. Anon: I did not think you insinuated me, so there is no need to apologize.

What you are asking for is a transparent system, which is fair.


Anonymous said...

One of the main proponents of giving extra money to Bhatnagar awardees is Prof. CNR Rao. In spite of objections from IIT Directors, he pushed this measure through (and the one of giving money to those who are members of 2 academies) in the Standing Committee of IITs a few years ago. This is terrible. In fact, even the Bhatnagar awards criteria (high impact factor pubs) encourages us to publish in areas of interest to the West. Our research is being driven by what is happening in Europe and the US. Neo-colonialism all over again! And promoted by our scientific establishment!