“States must re-understand why academic research is fundamental”

Lhe global academic research is losing efficiency, legitimacy and responsibility. The incentives underlying mass publication have a negative impact on our societies and on the producers of the content: the researchers themselves. In a world where disinterested understanding of our ecosystems is vital to meeting the challenges of the climate emergency, it is high time to empower researchers to work independently, effectively and relevantly in a healthy professional environment, while ensuring transmission of knowledge to the public in an understandable and accessible form.

The health crisis has brought academic research to the fore, from understanding the virus responsible for Covid-19 to the development of several vaccines. This vaccine race has also been the scene of the perverse system on which academic research is currently built: the incentive for the rapid production and mass publication of scientific articles. It will not have escaped anyone certain retractions of articles, initially published in several prestigious scientific journals, such as The Lancet. The Retraction Watch website summarizes in this page all the scientific articles withdrawn whose subject related to Covid-19.

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Removing an article is not bad in itself, because no article claims to present “the truth”, but only elements allowing to approach it. No scientific result is definitive. The plurality of responses provided makes it possible to provide elements for refining the analysis, finding potential errors, or even proposing new approaches, in order to obtain conclusions that come closest to “reality”. This is the heart of the scientific process which, by definition, wants to be iterative and precise, and therefore long compared to the prevailing thirst for immediacy.

Researchers evaluated by the volume of their work

Respecting this scientific process is essential to understanding our world “correctly” and respecting its rich and diverse ecosystems. Unfortunately, academic research is built on a system that encourages flouting this process, yet guarantees the sound construction of the common knowledge base. The world’s researchers today find themselves excluded from and at the mercy of the three stakeholders in the knowledge market: research funding bodies (public or private), university libraries and research institutions (such as the CNRS in France).

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