Academic process and innovation

Matt Welsh has some ideas on academic process slowing innovation. I have not thought about some of the issues that Matt is talking about: however, it is not clear to me that innovations that should (could and does) happen in the industry should also happen in academics. Secondly, there is an overhead associated with making something get accepted in the academic community; the purpose of that overhead is to make sure that truly new (not wifi masquerading as balloon kind of innovation, to use one of Matt’s example) is only picked. Having said that, I do agree with Matt that this overhead is not serving the purpose it is supposed to serve; and the reason for that is

The main reason is competition for scarce resources. Put simply, there are too many academics, and not enough funding and not enough paper-slots in good conference venues. Much has been said about the sad state of public funding for science research. Too many academics competing for the same pool of money means longer processes for proposal reviews and more time re-submitting proposals when they get rejected.

And, I like some of the remedies suggested too:

We still need to publish research, though, which is important for driving innovation. But we should shift to an open, online publication model — like arXiv — where everything is “accepted” and papers are reviewed and scored informally after the fact. Work can get published much more rapidly and good work won’t be stuck in the endless resubmission cycle. Scientists can stop wasting so much time and energy on program committees and conference organization. (We should still have one big conference every year so people still get to meet and drink and bounce ideas around.)  This model is also much more amenable to publications from industry, who currently have little incentive to run the conference submission gauntlet, unless publishing papers is part of their job description. And academics can still use citation counts or “paper ratings” as the measure by which hiring and promotion decisions are made.

However, my reasoning for arriving at this remedy is slightly different. I find that the academic overhead is not paying in terms of picking the best; if anything, it has made the academics form groups and rig the review and funding processes — because resources are indeed scarce. A more open publication and a much more open sharing of resources (codes, experimental tricks, designs and so on) will fuel the academic market forces to bet only on the truly innovative ideas which can be translated in the industrial setting into products and technologies at a much faster pace!

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