Since I did my master in Munich 3 years ago and now work on my PhD thesis I observe a trend in scientific research that worries me more and more. It seems to me that in the current research communities a devastating rush takes over to carry out large numbers of experiments as fast as possible and publishing their results before the initial findings could be carefully verified. On the other hand, there is the absurd tendency to start new projects, work on them in a very superficial way and finish them before anybody was able to go into depth and understand more global implications. A typical example are large whole-genome association studies, which generate endless data columns of genes with more-or-less clear links to human diseases. At the end, the usual conclusion derived from these studies is that "everything in biology is link with everything in life-science", virtually telling us nothing new. Before anybody could afford to take a complex physiological or pathological network apart and study a single biological mechanism in a defined model, the funding has usually expired and the scientific caravan went further, leaving behind only some empty water bottles and cold fire-places, but no documents to testify that the place where they erected their camp for some time was a good place and how much we have learned here. Gary Marcus wrote recently a text in The Newyorker where he explains that this not only is a very inefficient way of spending research funds, but that it even undermines the reputation of the entire research community. In Science and Its Sceptics he calls for
"... greater enthusiasm for those people who are willing to invest the time to try to sort the truth from hype and bring that to the public. Academic science does far too little to encourage such voices. "
But Marcus also defends the right of scientists to walk on unfortified roads, since the daily business of research is to go forward on a provisional area. This, however should not lead to a dismission of science altogether. But it is in my understanding like climbing a rock using a rope: you can go forward to the next fix-point maybe 5 meters, and when you fall you might fall 10 meters before the rope holds you. This is still acceptable, the perspective to get 5 meters higher justifies the risk fall 10 meters down and get some superficial scratches and bruises. If you risk to climb up 10 meters before fixing the rope on the next hook, however you risk to fall down 20 meters before the rope catches you, and this might cause fractures or other lesions that could become life threatening. In research, of course, it is not a matter of damaging your own physical health or your life, but to risk that a whole scientific project be put on the verge of destruction.
I am longing for the possibility to follow a single project into its depth, to discover and verify something really new and important.