Overproduction of Truth: Are there too many scientists?
Ever more scientists are publishing ever more papers, faster than ever — and the quality's dropping. Gianfranco Pacchioni, author of "The Overproduction of Truth", says modern science is heading for a fall.
A nurse holds two cloned monkeys at the non-human primate research facility of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (picture alliance/AP Photo/Jin Liwang)
Deutsche Welle: The title of your book, "The Overproduction of Truth," is provocative, not least because there's so much talk about fake-ism these days. So one could say there's never enough truth, especially scientific truth. But from what you write, there seem to be some real issues at the heart of science that need to be addressed, such as, for instance, the number of journals, low-grade scientists doing peer review, and the pressure to publish and get cited, perhaps especially among young scientists. Is science in trouble?
Gianfranco Pacchioni: Science, as a rule, is not in trouble, because the top scientists are still producing excellent science and changing the world in which we live.
But the image of science in society can be damaged, and science may become less relevant, when people, who are not experts, are exposed to an amount of information, which for them is very difficult to distinguish — the good from the bad and the relevant from the irrelevant.
The title of the book in Italian was actually slightly different, it was "Scienza, quo vadis?" —which means "where are we going?" — because I think the current direction could lead to damage in the image of science in society.
A rise in "citizen science" means science is ever more present, but the amount of information can be overwhelming
Give us an example of where we might see this damage.
One of the very important pillars of science is that all results have to be verified and certified and this is, more or less, what has been happening with the peer review process. It's not perfect but it is a way of validating other people's results.
But with the growing number of publications, and the number of people working in science, perhaps not surprisingly, the quality of publications has decreased. Not everywhere: There are some journals which still have very robust and rigorous ways of assessing the quality of scientific studies. And then there are journals that adopt much more flexible procedures, or even those, unfortunately, that do not assess the quality at all.
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