Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The One-Percenters, The Science Edition: One reason we're stuck with breast-is-best

Recent studies clog parenting websites, traditional news media, magazines and blogs. Tantalizing discoveries litter my homepage. Science news feeds spit out hundreds of fresh studies each week into my inbox. New journals cropping up every year. Traditional publishers bumping up their content with online bits and pieces. It's no secret the annual number of published studies popping up in traditional journals has increased over the past decades. Over two million papers get published every year now. It's easy to get the impression everybody's doing it. A lot. Getting published.

But a new report found 99% of scientists don't publish papers on a regular, that is annual basis - even with a plethora of journals and an endless supply of cheap labor (i.e. grad students).

Less than 1% of scientists get a paper published every year. 

I know, who cares?

You and I don't have to deal with this crowd in our daily lives. They won't be drinking too much warm beer and scaring the kids at the block party this weekend. They won't be heckling the pitcher at your son's baseball team. They probably won't even be asking too many questions and thus holding up the organic cheese maker's line at the local farmer's market either. They're too busy micro-managing research labs with million and millions of grant money (i.e. our tax dollars) and sticking their names atop every manuscript in their purview.

So why bother with this scientific elite at all?
...these 150,608 scientists dominate the research journals, having their names on 41% of all papers. Among the most highly cited work, this elite group can be found among the co-authors of 87% of papers. ScienceMag.org
Just like their economic counterparts, the scientific elite hog publication resources. Now I realize that 150, 608 scientist seems like a small, exclusive crowd, it's certainly too large to fit into a quaint college quad or wrangle into a stadium. But remember millions of papers are published each year now in scientific journals (not arts/humanities) and the elites, the one-percenters have produced or at least gotten their names on an average of 41% over the past decade and a half.

In 2011, the super publishers accounted for only 34% (vs 41%) but take a look at these stats:

2.3 million papers by everybody (807,146 by the super publishers)

This trend suggests it still isn't easy for younger or less-well established researchers to get their findings to the scientific community, especially ones that qualify or challenge  prevailing ideologies, ahem, say breast-is-best. So that lowly associate professor (God forbid, not the one without tenure) sitting on data showing breastfed babies aren't any healthier than formula babies, well, she doesn't have much of a chance. No wonder we haven't heard from her.

NOTE: The study, conducted by John Ioannidis, aka he of Published-Research-Stinks fame, appears this month in PLOS ONE.  






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