The state of the field

Dec 09 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

A few years ago at some graduate student party I found myself standing around with some eager new students. They were going on about the state of the field in a slightly more serious manner than I was prepared for while sipping on my third beer. Maybe this theory. Maybe that theory. I interjected “Maybe we’re all just twiddling our thumbs until [the field next door] develops the right methods and solves all the problems we’ve been quidiling about” I mean it half joking, but was met by the awkward silence of those who were far too earnest to consider my statement to be amusing.

My discipline has been going through a fair amount of exasperation about the state of the things. Perhaps I’m just more aware of these discussions now that I’m further along in my academic age; and maybe every field has this to some degree. Lately the water cooler talk, in departments, at conferences and on the Internet has been ramping up. Data sharing (or the lackthereof), useful theory (or the lackthereof), graduate training, publishing (openaccess), etc. Things like, "if only our graduate training included X, then we're really go places"

Are we going anywhere? Are we running in circles? Is some field nearby that does things a little bit better just going to consume us? Like an amoeba being absorbed by a slightly larger (and smarter) amoeba. Taking our scientific territory for its own sustenance. (Funny thing is, the other field next door thinks that we are trying to absorb them, and we kind of are.)

I feel like it’s somewhat productive, and somewhat pointless angst. For example there’s little use in going on and on about, how bad some people are at responding to data sharing requests. There’s no science police that can fine people for not using best practices1. The best recourse is to put energy into changing the culture, which takes time. You know, think global, act local.

Does your area engage in these sorts of discussions of "field wide issues"?
Any current big pushes to address some important issue?
Do these kind of things just tent to work out, given enough time?

1. Though doesn’t NIH require data sharing… do they actually enforce it?

One response so far

  • I see the two polar extremes with data sharing: I've gotten the raw data the same day the request is made or I'm still waiting on it over a year later. Sometimes publications issues come into this but for the most part people are pretty good about it. As far as NIH enforcement I haven't heard much about any cases they have had to come down on someone to open up the cookie jar.