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[ Tools for researchers ] August 30, 2022

Rethinking research competition to save scientific collaboration

Collaboration and competition are two influential topics of focus in the scientific community. As scientists struggle to remain relevant and gain more recognition, competition drives them to sacrifice the quality of research for the chance to publish more papers.

Effects of collaboration and competition on quality of research

Competition is a major aspect of any field, including academia and science. Researchers constantly feel the need to publish inconclusive papers faster rather than collaborate to develop more concrete data to share with the world of science. Nevertheless, competition is necessary to drive more engagement and science performance. But researchers must rethink narrow-minded approaches to research publishing that reward competition and consider collaboration as a powerful tool for better research outcomes. 

Some researchers see others who are working on the same topics as enemies. Instead, this can be a great opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration that allows them to bring together their ideas and develop stronger papers.

Removing competitive thinking will allow researchers to learn from each other, complement the research work with distinctive perspectives and gain shared recognition while adding more value to science.

 

How collaboration can change the dynamics of science

The growing numbers of co-authors in all fields of scientific research show that collaboration is very much alive and appreciated.
Nevertheless, more needs to be done to entrench collaborative approaches in the facets of science research.
Collaboration was never more obvious than during the pandemic when the world’s scientists shared in discovering potent vaccines for COVID. This strongly indicates that when researchers put their competitive mindsets aside, great discoveries are made. The reputation-based incentives that drive competition in science research need to be reassessed as they could negatively impact the quality of science.

Interdisciplinary collaboration not only brings about stronger research outcomes but also positively impacts the researcher’s career. Although there are lots of questions about how to make research collaboration more effective, the opportunities are bountiful.

 

Why the “publish or perish” mentality must not live on

Competition sometimes drives researchers to publish their work sooner than they should have. This is because they feel they would lose relevance in their respective fields if they don't have as many publications as possible in their name.  They also compete to be the first to discover something that multiple teams may be exploring simultaneously. However, this mentality is detrimental to the quality and reliability of scientific research. When scientists put speed over quality, the research outcomes can have little significance to science. 

Nowadays, the more papers you publish, the more likely you are to gain awards, move up the academic or organizational ranks or win grants. This pushes researchers to rather prefer single-authored publications over co-authored ones, thereby hindering opportunities for collaboration.

A systematic reform is needed to curtail the incentivization of publications and stop the pressure to publish as many papers as possible. This will help facilitate collaboration among members to make discoveries that matter to science.

 

Conclusion

Competition in science leads researchers to cut corners, rush analysis and compromise the integrity of their work just to be the first to publish the research findings. Science needs more collaboration and less competition. Effective collaborations are the stepping stones to major scientific breakthroughs in history. Therefore we must get braver in how we work together and not allow competition or the pressure to publish to impede the progress of science. 

Read our whitepaper: Stronger Together for more of our thoughts on the importance of collaboration for the progress of science.