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Environ Eng Sci. 2017 Jan 1;34(1):51-61. doi: 10.1089/ees.2016.0223.

Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition.

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Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech , Blacksburg, Virginia.


Over the last 50 years, we argue that incentives for academic scientists have become increasingly perverse in terms of competition for research funding, development of quantitative metrics to measure performance, and a changing business model for higher education itself. Furthermore, decreased discretionary funding at the federal and state level is creating a hypercompetitive environment between government agencies (e.g., EPA, NIH, CDC), for scientists in these agencies, and for academics seeking funding from all sources-the combination of perverse incentives and decreased funding increases pressures that can lead to unethical behavior. If a critical mass of scientists become untrustworthy, a tipping point is possible in which the scientific enterprise itself becomes inherently corrupt and public trust is lost, risking a new dark age with devastating consequences to humanity. Academia and federal agencies should better support science as a public good, and incentivize altruistic and ethical outcomes, while de-emphasizing output.


academic research; funding; misconduct; perverse incentives; scientific integrity

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