Scientists not only seek the truth, they also seek recognition, and that hampers science

Scientists not only seek the truth, they also seek recognition, and that hampers science

Beyond harsh epistemological questions, an idealized scientist is one who uses a powerful tool, science, to search for the truth. Or, at least, to get as close to her as possible . However, while scientists tend to be very curious people who love to solve problems and uncover the hidden fabric of the universe, in many cases they are like other human beings .

Incentives and hairless monkeys

Scientists are human beings. In fact, they are more human beings than scientists, at least most of the time. And human beings are hairless monkeys, that is, they have similar aspirations .

One of the most universal aspirations of the human being or the hairless monkey is status, recognition, reputation. Thus, like the rest of the people, scientists have motivations that go beyond the pure search for knowledge. They are not, beautifully enough, what Francis Bacon , one of the first architects of the modern scientific method, romanticized romanticized (as he writes in the preface to his Instauratio magna ):

Finally, I would like to address a general warning to all: consider what the true ends of knowledge are, and do not seek it for the pleasure of the mind, or for dispute, or for superiority over others, or for profit, not for fame, not for power, not for any of these inferior things; but for the benefit and use of life; and that they perfect it and rule it in charity.

Text The frontispiece of Sir Francis Bacon’s Instauratio magna (Great Installation) from 1620 depicts a ship sailing through two classical columns into an open sea; symbolizes moving beyond the limits of classical scholarship (i.e. ancient Greek) into a potentially limitless realm of natural knowledge.

Of course, scientists must aspire to that. However, no scientist is like that. Consequently, they strive to earn money , to improve and impress their friends and colleagues, to be promoted in their work and, if things are going remarkably well, to be interviewed in mass media for a better overall status.

The collateral effect of all this is the progress of science . But that progress must be audited by strict procedures and regulations so that scientists do not take shortcuts to receive their compliments. It is not the same to publish a paper in a Q1 magazine than an article in the newspaper. Which is not always achieved. In addition, since the person who publishes the most and who receives the most citations is incentivized, this invokes the so-called Goodhard Law .

This law, although it can be expressed in various formulations, suggests that the more a quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more it will be subject to the pressures of corruption and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes that are intended. monitor . This naturally affects not only science, but other areas, as you can see in the following video: