“Science” as an outdated technology?

An anon with an academic background gives a criticism on the effects of research institutions and bureaucracies on science itself.  A first step on the staircase that leads down a surprisingly deep rabbit hole:

What we call “science” is 17-century technology. The system made sense when research was done by a relatively small group of learned individuals who needed the printed journal as a way to collaborate and communicate, but it has since devolved into a racket. It has devolved into two rackets, to be precise:

nature journal
An issue of Nature, a science journal.

First, you have the journals who add no value to the process but appropriate huge amounts of taxpayer money. Consider the process of research and publication: the scientist/researcher, who is generally taxpayer-funded, creates some result which he writes up in an article and sends it for publication to a journal.

Of course, he cannot just send in a handwritten manuscript; he has to typeset and format it himself via Latex. The article is then sent out by journals staff to other researchers for multiple rounds of peer review, which these other researchers, in the overwhelming number of cases, do at no cost and at significant investment of time. It can easily happen that a reviewer contributes more to a paper than the third or fourth author, yet doing the reviews is simply seen as a collegial duty.

If the paper passes, it is published by the journal at basically zero cost, because journals are rarely printed physically nowadays. All Springer and Elsevier have to do is provide a PDF and maybe some BibTex info online. For the end product other people’s work, to which they have contributed nothing, they then charge 20-50$ per article. Of course, nobody pays that; they get their money though subscriptions from libraries and universities. Thus you have the absurd situation that a university has to pay tens of thousands of dollars per year to provide access to research that its salaried scientists have themselves done.

Second, you have the university-government complex. University administrators (who tend to be the most incompetent people you can find at a university because nobody with actual scientific ability wants to do the job) use indicators like the h-index and the numbers of papers published in “big-name” journals like Nature to gauge the worth of a prospective employee – “worth” meaning the ability to bring in grant money. It should be noted that the h-index favors authors with a large number of seldom-cited papers over authors with a few oft-cited ones, again contributing to the pressure to publish endless streams of mediocre work.

Publishers make basically free money, while bureaucrats keep the hamster wheels of scientists spinning and themselves necessary. Why do scientists put up with this shit? Mostly because they’re autists who imagine themselves to be above petty economic concerns like the theft of millions at the hands of useless middlemen every year, but primarily because they’re enamored with the prestige of the institution of the journal.

If you’re a scientist, publishing in Nature or Science or The Lancet or the ACM Transactions on something is your life. You’re constantly regaled about the august nature of the entire edifice of science, of the journals, of peer review and its alleged ability to eliminate errors and fraud (yeah, fucking right). The overwhelming majority of scientists have an utterly slavish devotion to the system and would not even consider alternatives to it, lest they lose the ability to get a spot on the cover of prestigious Nature.

Now that the racket-part is out of the way, let’s go back to the “17th-century” aspect: the article format is hopelessly outdated in the age of the Internet and wikis. Once again, the desire and the necessity of getting sole credit precludes a great deal of possible, fruitful collaboration. Even though people would technically be able to work together and share ideas much more quickly and organically by, say, working out a proof in a wiki together or pooling genetic data into a instantly searchable database, they sit on it and hide it like Galileo way back when. The measure of scientific output is not the theorem, or the model, or the algorithm, but the published article which describes it, and which tries to transplant the outdated medium of the book onto the computer screen, inconveniences like alternating page numbers and non-clickable citation lists included.

To give a simpler summary of how exactly scientific journals operate in the words of another anon:

Scientists are paid to do research, and then they publish the research in a journal. If you want to access this research, you need to pay the journal. Usually the people paying these access fees are scientists that work for universities. So basically the taxpayer is funding a the journal at both ends. They fund the research, and then they fund the access-fees. The journal doesn’t do anything, except supposedly review the publication for its quality. In reality it’s criminally easy to publish bullshit research in these journals. These journals are a parasitic entity, a middleman that exists for no reason at all. Scientists should be able to freely post this research online for public comment.

To simply realize the system is broken and outdated is but the first step down the descent of the rabbit hole.  For those of you more interested in the political and philosophical aspects of science journals, read on, for we will go deeper!

robert and ghislaine
Robert and Ghislaine, father & daughter

The modern system of for profit scientific journals came from a man known as Robert Maxwell, who is also the father of Ghislaine Maxwell (of the Epstein fame, curiously enough).  Robert created the Pergamon Press, the first scientific journal with the specific purpose of turning scientific knowledge into profit. Maxwell’s tactic was simple: he would first invite prominent scientists to the most expensive dinner of their life and write them a big fat check in exchange for exclusive publishing of all their future papers on his journal, then he would request a large subscription fee from anyone trying to access the papers, whether it was for use or for peer review.

This led to science being transformed into a business even larger than the music and movie industries. After Maxwell’s death in 1991, another scientific journal named Elsevier went on to buy Pergamon Press for close to $1 billion. At the same time, it cut off all the payments to the scientists and continued to raise the subscription fees higher and higher every year, up to the ridiculous point of today in which the paywall is so high that only governments, universities and giant corporations can afford to access those papers.

The consequences of this scientific gatekeeping have been many and catastrophic:

  • Scientists do not actually see a cent out of the fees to access the papers they write anymore, in fact they now have to pay to have their paper on a scientific journal in the first place; all the money goes to the journal.
  • A few carefully selected editors get hired to do the vast majority of all the peer reviewing, leading to bullshit papers not being challenged for decades.
  • Scientists who don’t publish papers on famous scientific journals every year end up losing their job, which means scientists can no longer afford to do long-term researches and be productive in their field.
  • The quality of the papers no longer has any importance, all that matters is their number and how politically convenient they are (studies on covid-19 are what 2020 is all about, the years before it was gender studies).
  • In order to stay relevant, universities and colleges have to buy the entire catalogues of these journals, which cost several millions of dollars; this has led higher education to being more and more ridiculously expensive every single year.
  • Any unauthorized person who tries to share scientific papers on the Internet (even those that have public access) gets legally persecuted and asked to pay millions of dollars; among these people was also Aaron Swartz, who ended up killing himself at 26.
  • Scientific journals have obtained a complete monopoly on knowledge, which is setting back human progress as a whole by decades, if not possibly centuries.

Note: The above are paraphrased from the contribution of yet another anon, whose work have not been preserved in a greentext’d screenshot.

For those who want to delve in deeper on this topic, this is a really good youtube video to check out:

science loverFor those of you who’ve managed to make it this far to the end of this article, here’s an extra credit assignment you can do.  Look up Robert Maxwell’s entry on wikipedia – under the biographical info for his early life, what do you see?  The last piece of the puzzle is there.

It’s very unfortunate to realize that the scientific research system is not just broken and outdated because of bureaucracies that developed naturally over time, but that it was made the way it is today intentionally by for profit interests.

Sure makes you look at all the supposed “science lovers” who’s been so prominent on social media in the last few years in a different light, doesn’t it?  At the end, just what is it that they’re so fervently championing?

Some, but not all, of the original screen cap:

science as technology


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