Bioethics Blogs

The dark side of research – when chasing prestige becomes the prize

I love my job. I’m trying to understand how plants build themselves out of thin air. It’s exciting, it’s creative, it’s beautiful and on top of all that it’s important and useful. I like working with other people with different perspectives and I like the sharing of ideas and the piece-by-piece building of understanding from careful observation, experiment and analysis. Then there are those rare eureka moments when suddenly something that was obscure makes sense and unconnected ideas fit together to make a satisfying whole.

All these motivations for life as a researcher are evident in the results of a survey conducted as part of a project led by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics to examine the culture of scientific research in the UK. The 970 survey respondents, most of whom work in universities, picked improving their knowledge, making discoveries for the benefit of society and satisfying their curiosity to describe what motivates them in their work; and they identified collaboration, creativity, openness and multidisciplinary working as hallmarks of a high quality research culture.

But the project has also uncovered threats to the vibrancy of this intellectual melting pot. While participants in the project acknowledged the positive influence of competition in driving up the quality of research, they also expressed concerns about the current criteria used to find the competition winners.

Competition in science

Science has always been competitive. There are more ideas for new research projects than there is money to fund them – and there are more people wanting to pursue careers in research than there are jobs for them to fill.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.