MCAT CARS and What’s Happening to Scientific Research

Session 11

Link to the full article: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/three-trends-threaten-science-research-by-jeremy-j-baumberg–2018–09

Scientific knowledge and technological innovation, as Yuval Noah Harari emphasizes in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, are among the key drivers of economic progress. Yet there is remarkably little reflection taking place about the state of science today, despite significant challenges, rooted in globalization, the digitization of knowledge, and the growing number of scientists.

At first glance, all of these seem to be positive trends. Globalization connects scientists worldwide, enabling them to avoid duplication and facilitating the development of universal standards and best practices. The creation of digital databases allows for systematic mining of scientific output and offers a broader foundation for new investigations. And the rising number of scientists means that more science is being conducted, accelerating progress.

But these trends are Janus-faced. To understand why, one must recognize, first, that science is an ecosystem. Just like any other ecosystem, it is characterized by the push and pull among competing actors. Universities compete to ascend the research rankings. Scientific journals compete to publish the most relevant papers. Conference organizers compete for the most distinguished speakers. Journalists compete for scoops on the most important breakthroughs. Funders compete to identify and support the research that will produce the most significant advances in terms of social impact, security, or commercial profitability.

Like in the natural world, this complex competition enables the production of both ecosystem “goods” and “services.” Our natural ecosystems produce goods in the form of raw materials and services such as maintaining oxygen in the atmosphere, pollinating plants, cleaning air and water, and even providing us with beauty and inspiration.

Our scientific ecosystem’s goods are the independent, distilled, peer-reviewed knowledge that drives our societies and economies forward. Its services include an improved understanding of our world and the frameworks that best support progress, enabling us to innovate and solve problems.

The scientific ecosystem also serves us in ways that are harder to articulate. It instills in us an appreciation for the beauty of mathematics, a belief in the inherent values of education, trust in the intrinsic worth of transnational intellectual communities, and interest in scholarly discussion.

[02:21] Paragraph 1, Sentence 1:

Scientific knowledge and technological innovation, as Yuval Noah Harari emphasizes in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, are among the key drivers of economic progress.

Jack says:

The author of this article says the book’s author is talking about economic progress. We’re not talking about the economy here but your mind should shift towards the economy.

[03:13] Paragraph 1, Sentence 2:

Yet there is remarkably little reflection taking place about the state of science today, despite significant challenges, rooted in globalization, the digitization of knowledge, and the growing number of scientists.

Jack says:

There’s not a lot of reflection taking place on science and challenges in science.

[03:57] Paragraph 2, Sentence 1:

At first glance, all of these seem to be positive trends.

Jack says:

“These” could refer to scientific knowledge and technological innovation.

[04:10] Paragraph 2, Sentence 2:

Globalization connects scientists worldwide, enabling them to avoid duplication and facilitating the development of universal standards and best practices.

Jack says:

He’s saying how globalization seems like a good thing.

[05:09] Paragraph 2, Sentence 3:

The creation of digital databases allows for systematic mining of scientific output and offers a broader foundation for new investigations.

Jack says:

This again shows a positive thing.

[05:25] Paragraph 2, Sentence 4:

And the rising number of scientists means that more science is being conducted, accelerating progress.

Jack says:

It seems like the challenges mentioned earlier are helping science in some way. As globalization occurs, scientists are connected so it’s a good thing.

[06:03] Paragraph 3, Sentence 1:

But these trends are Janus-faced.

Jack says:

“But” here may denote that this is going in a different direction. Janus-faced doesn’t seem to make sense but it could mean two-faced. Maybe this has something to do with deception or something along those lines.

[06:53] Paragraph 3, Sentence 2:

To understand why, one must recognize, first, that science is an ecosystem.

Jack says:

We have to understand first that it’s an ecosystem.

[07:15] Paragraph 3, Sentence 3:

Just like any other ecosystem, it is characterized by the push and pull among competing actors.

Jack says:

The author is describing how an ecosystem is. It’s a push and pull system. It seems like there is a competition going on here. When you think of an ecosystem, you should be associating it to competition.

[08:08] Paragraph 3, Sentences 4-7:

Universities compete to ascend the research rankings. Scientific journals compete to publish the most relevant papers. Conference organizers compete for the most distinguished speakers. Journalists compete for scoops on the most important breakthroughs.

Jack says:

Now, the author says universities compete in research. And these different journals compete for science. They’re all competing for data, science, etc.

[09:03] Paragraph 3, Sentence 8:

Funders compete to identify and support the research that will produce the most significant advances in terms of social impact, security, or commercial profitability.

Jack says:

It seems that there is an ecosystem based on competition for science, and not necessarily this connection of globalization discussed in the prior paragraph.

[09:55] Paragraph 4, Sentences 1-2:

Like in the natural world, this complex competition enables the production of both ecosystem “goods” and “services.” Our natural ecosystems produce goods in the form of raw materials and services such as maintaining oxygen in the atmosphere, pollinating plants, cleaning air and water, and even providing us with beauty and inspiration.

Jack says:

Because of the competition, we’re producing good and services around it.

[10:45] Paragraph 5, Sentence 1:

Our scientific ecosystem’s goods are the independent, distilled, peer-reviewed knowledge that drives our societies and economies forward.

Jack says:

The author is now showing us ecosystems in the scientific world.

[11:08] Paragraph 5, Sentence 2:

Its services include an improved understanding of our world and the frameworks that best support progress, enabling us to innovate and solve problems.

Jack says:

They’re just giving us how science looks at good and services relative to the natural ecosystem.

[11:43] Paragraph 6, Sentence 1:

The scientific ecosystem also serves us in ways that are harder to articulate.

Jack says:

It’s not just about solving problems but it can be harder to articulate as well.

[11:57] Paragraph 6, Sentence 2:

It instills in us an appreciation for the beauty of mathematics, a belief in the inherent values of education, trust in the intrinsic worth of transnational intellectual communities, and interest in scholarly discussion.

Jack says:

The author talks about the benefit of the scientific ecosystem.

[12:35] What the Passage is Trying to Say

Jack says this is hard because there wasn’t any very clear idea or argument here. What the author is trying to say here is that science is an ecosystem with competing actors. This is the main idea they really want you to know. It’s not necessarily a globalization kind of thing, although they did paint that picture. But really, it’s an ecosystem – a competition that propels science.

You definitely know science is positive and this is something the author makes you assume. But the central argument after reading this passage is that science is really an ecosystem. This can be hard to see unless you really try to think what the author wants from you and what the author really wants you to know. This can be a dull passage where you can lose track of the key arguments if you’re not asking yourself why did the author bring this up? What’s the point of this paragraph.

[15:35] Jack Westin

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Jack Westin

MedEd Media Network

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