“The pace of normal scientific progress seems hard to justify in the middle of a global crisis. So, everyone is doing their best to contribute and move at warp speed,” said Madhukar Pai, a tuberculosis researcher at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in Nature Medicine. He also stated, “There is a fear of missing out. And it’s turned into a feeding frenzy.” Are we rushing science research? And how do we manage expectations going forward?
That was fast
Richard B. Heitz writes in Frontiers in Neuroscience: “There are few behavioral effects as ubiquitous as the speed-accuracy tradeoff (SAT). From insects to rodents to primates, the tendency for decision speed to covary with decision accuracy seems an inescapable property of choice behavior. Recently, the SAT has received renewed interest, as neuroscience approaches begin to uncover its neural underpinnings and computational models are compelled to incorporate it as a necessary benchmark.”
Rushing research would seem to mean we’re making more mistakes. And if we are making more mistakes, can it really be considered progress?
In Science magazine, Kai Kupferschmidt writes: “New England Journal of Medicine Editor-in-Chief Eric Rubin concedes there is a tension between rigor and speed. The journal’s review process for COVID-19 papers, he notes, is basically the same as always but much faster. ‘We and authors could do a more careful job if we had more time,’ he wrote in an email. ‘But, for now, physicians are dealing with a crisis and the best quality information available quickly is better than perfect information that can’t be accessed until it’s not helpful.’”
It was a banner year for writing. Said Holly Else in Nature, according to the journal’s data: “[The year] 2020 also saw a sharp increase in articles on all subjects being submitted to scientific journals — perhaps because many researchers had to stay at home and focus on writing up papers rather than conducting science. Submissions to publisher Elsevier’s journals alone were up by around 270,000 — or 58% — between February and May when compared with the same period in 2019, one analysis found. The increase was even higher for health and medicine titles, at a whopping 92%.” Not all were so pleased with this, however. Especially those who read preprints.
Let’s slow things down a bit…
In the article, “Juggling Slow and Fast Science” the authors, Luciana Leite & Luisa Maria Diele-Viegas said: “The slow-science movement started as a call for a healthier and better science culture, described by Lisa Alleva in 2006 as a ‘rewarding and pleasurable’ way of doing science. The movement has been gaining momentum over the past years, and, in an opinion piece published in November 2019, Uta Frith argued that fast science is ‘bad for both science and scientists.’ Only a few months later, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. The impacts of SARS-CoV-2 accelerated science in an unforeseeable manner.”
Suddenly it was a madhouse. Everyone was scrambling. Some even felt guilt about their research not having to do with a cure for the coronavirus.
The Big Idea
Perhaps the conundrum can be best summed up with these words of Leite’s and Diele-Viegas’: “We agree that some science cannot and should not be rushed, but COVID-19 has also taught us that some science cannot and should not be slowed. During the pandemic, the assumption that one speed fits all, whether fast or slow, is revealed to be more hurtful than helpful.” Rushing research can hardly be considered a positive outcome of the pandemic, but is it the best case scenario? Remembering that patience is a virtue and persistence reigns among champions might not be such a bad idea — for scientists, included.