Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What's wrong with American scientists?

A friend just got back from a computational linguistics conference in the U.S. She commented that she and her colleague had noticed that the best talks came from European labs, and that Europeans seemed more open to exchange of ideas than American researchers. This observation precisely matches my own experience and opinions.

In general, it seems to me that American researchers have little interest in any ideas but their own. All of their energy is spent churning out papers to further their careers. I think that this is due to the extreme competitiveness of the funding situation here. It results in thrashing - scientists spend all of their time maneuvering to get funding, based on safe incremental changes to their previously funded work. Anything not directly related to funding for their own research is of no use; it is as if they have blinders on. As a result, cronyism rules; established researchers will only help other researchers if there's something in it for them. If a new researcher independently generates original ideas, it is impossible to get ahead based solely on the quality of those ideas.

That's why the U.S. is losing its pre-eminence in science and Europe is gaining, as shown by an NSF study of where the leading papers in a variety of fields are being generated.


Jason M. Adams said...

As an American student (in the field of computational linguistics, which is why I found this post), I'd have to agree, though perhaps you were a little harsh. Maybe not. I have noticed that there is often a layer of secrecy over individual research projects until there has been something published. The secrecy resumes once the conversation returns to non-published areas of the work. That's not universally true, but I have experienced it more than a few times. I won't rule out confirmation bias here, though. It has been a major factor in turning me off to academia. Industry isn't exactly more open, but at least no one lies about secrecy there.

Carol Whitney said...

Hi Jason,

Thanks for your thoughts. As someone who has worked in the (computer science) industry for 10 years and is now trying to make her way in academia, I can say that the environment is far better industry. Everything is much fairer. Advancement depends on accomplishments and management treats employees with respect. (If not, employees will just go elsewhere.) I wish the same could be said of academia. So coming from a background in industry, I've found it particularly hard to adjust to the way things are done in academia, and the way that people are treated. And then if your try to stand up for yourself in the face of unfair treatment by someone of higher status in academia, you are labeled "difficult".

Anonymous said...

Hi carol,
Bill here--
my observances of brain function are summarized by the dual adherent conduit of levin and non-levin conditions; very moderate levels of sweet and or bitter/vegetable sourcing,... One day a few weeks ago, I drank half a gallon of grape juice to chase amn apple and some broccoli and carrots and I fealt super!
Then there's the orange juice and whole wheat matzos diet for two days which allowed me the swiftness to create way tight panoramic lyrics--ten songs!
What are you doing now? I greatly enjoy meeting new people in bars, then watching the spirit of Grace blow in. I trust some is lifting your skirt too?
RSVP friends for life -day 9940 since we met with Grandma et al...ciao!