Category Archives: Research and Practise

How to backup life on Earth ahead of any doomsday event

Jonathan Roberts, Queensland University of Technology

There are ten asteroids that the space organisation NASA said this month have been classified as “potentially hazardous” based on their size and their orbits in our Solar system.

NASA has now identified 693 near-Earth objects thanks to the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer spacecraft that’s been looking for potential threats to Earth since 2013.

The organisation doesn’t specify what kind of hazard these ten asteroids pose. But Earth has been hit by objects in the past, with devastating effects. Scientists largely agree that it was an asteroid or comet impact that started the chain of events that wiped out the dinosaurs around 60 million years ago.

This animation shows asteroids and comets observed by the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission.

Every year several previously unseen asteroids whizz past Earth, sometimes with only with a few days’ warning. This year two of these asteroids came very close to Earth, with one in May sailing past only 15,000km away. On cosmic scales, that was a very close shave.

But impacts from objects in space are just one of several ways that humanity and most of life on Earth could suddenly disappear.

We are already observing that extinctions are happening now at an unprecedented rate. In 2014 it was estimated that the extinction rate is now 1,000 times greater than before humans were on the Earth. The estimated number of extinctions ranges from 200 to 2,000 species per year.

From all of this very worrying data, it would not be a stretch to say that we are currently within a doomsday scenario. Of course, the “day” is longer than 24 hours but may be instead in the order of a century or two.

So what can we do about this potential prospect of impending doom? We can try to avoid some of the likely scenarios. We should act to tackle climate change and we can develop new asteroid-tracking systems and put in place a means to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

But the threats we face are so unpredictable that we need to have a backup plan. We need to plan for the time after our doomsday and think about how a post-apocalyptic Earth may recover and humanity will flourish again.

A backup plan

Some efforts to backup life on our planet have already started. Since the 1970s scientists around the world began to store seeds of potentially endangered plants. There are now dozens of seed banks or vaults scattered around the world.

The most famous is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on a remote Norwegian island about 1,300km from the North Pole. The location was deliberately chosen to afford the project safe and secure long-term storage in cold and dry rock vaults.

A risk of thawing at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Flickr/Landbruks og matdepartementet, CC BY-ND

But there were reports earlier this year that the vault had suffered issues with water from the surrounding melting permafrost (caused by global warming) gaining entry to parts of the structure.

Less common are vaults for storing biological material from animals. There are a handful of so-called frozen zoos around the world. They store embryos, eggs, sperm and more recently DNA of endangered animals. So far, sperm, eggs and embryos that have been frozen for roughly 20 years have been shown to be viable.

All of the storage methods that involve freezing have the same problem that the material is at risk of thawing out if the freezing methods fail. Storing frozen biological material for centuries or even millennia on Earth is not realistic.

Humans can now sequence a whole genome of a living organism and the cost has reduced to the point where it costs less than US$1,000 to sequence the human genome. This process effectively turns the information from any organism’s cells into data.

If future scientists can create living DNA from the genome data and can then create living organisms from that DNA, then having the data alone may be sufficient to backup the Earth’s living organisms.

Where to store the backups?

But where should humanity store the backups? As French president Emmanuel Macron said recently, “there is no plan B because there is no planet B”, echoing 2014 comments from Ban Ki-moon when he was secretary general of the United Nations.

Backing up on Earth seems a high-risk strategy, equivalent to having a computer backup on an external hard drive that sits right next to your computer.

So given that the motivation for backing up Earth’s organisms is the likelihood of Earth itself suffering a catastrophe, it follows that our planet is not the best location for the backups. The partial flooding of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault illustrates that perfectly.

Perhaps the obvious place to locate the backups is in space.

Seeds have already been taken to space for short periods (six months) to test their viability back on Earth. These experiments so far have been motivated by the desire to eventually grow plants in space itself, on space stations, or on Mars.

Space is a harsh environment for biological material, where cells are exposed to potentially very high doses of radiation that will damage DNA. Storage of seeds in low Earth orbit is desirable as Earth’s magnetic field provides some protection from space radiation. Storage outside of this zone and in deep space would require other methods of radiation protection.

The other question is how you would get seeds and other biological material safely back to Earth after a global disaster. Now we get to the robotics that can help, as autonomous re-entry of biological material from orbit is totally feasible.

The tricky part is for our orbiting bio-backup to know when its cargo is required and where to send it to. Perhaps we need a global limited robot crew – such as David in the recent Alien films – that would wake up the orbiter when it is needed.

‘Hello, I’m David.’

Alternatively, it could be staffed by a rotating crew of wardens similar to the International Space Station. These people could carry out other important scientific work too.

Other locations in space for storage of biological material or data include the Moon, and the moons of our solar system’s gas planets asteroids or deep space itself on free flying spacecraft. Such projects have been proposed and groups around the world have begun planning such ventures.

The ConversationSo it seems that some people have already accepted the fate of humanity version 1.0 and that it will end sometime in the relative near term. The movement to create our backup ready for humanity version 2.0 has already begun.

Jonathan Roberts, Professor in Robotics, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The new space race: why we need a human mission to Mars

Malcolm Walter, UNSW

If we want to know whether there is life beyond Earth then the quickest way to answer that question is to explore Mars. That exploration is currently being done by remote space probes sent from Earth.

The race is on though to send human explorers to Mars and a number of Earth-bound projects are trying to learn what life would be like on the red planet.

But the notion of any one-way human mission to Mars is nonsensical, as is the thought that we should colonise Mars simply because we are making a mess of Earth.

The first suggestion is pointless and unethical – we would be sending astronauts to their certain death – while the second would be a licence for us to continue polluting our home planet.

I believe we should go to Mars because of what we can learn from the red planet, and from developing the technologies to get people there safely.

The SpaceX entrepreneur Elon Musk last September outlined his vision for a mission to send people to Mars by 2022. But first he is planning to send people around the Moon.

I think Musk will send two space tourists around the Moon and back to Earth, not in 2018 as he has predicted, but probably within a decade. He has not yet experimented with having passengers aboard a rocket.

Our journey into space

It’s worth looking at how we got to where we are now in terms of humans in space and space exploration.

More than a billion people watched Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong take humankind’s first step on another world.
NASA

The first footprint on another world was made by US astronaut Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969 (US time) when he left the Eagle lunar lander and stepped onto the Moon.

One small step…

The Moon is as far as humans have explored in space but we’ve sent probes to explore the other planets in our Solar system, including Mars.

Several failed attempts were made to send a probe to Mars but the US Mariner 4 was the first to successfully photograph another planet from space when it made a flyby of Mars in July 1965.

The red planet Mars.
NASA

The USSR’s Mars 2 orbited Mars for three months in 1971 but its lander module crashed onto the planet. The lander of the Mars 3 mission also failed.

NASA’s Viking 1 performed the first successful landing on Mars, on July 20, 1976, followed by Viking 2 on September 3, 1976.

The dunes of Mars as seen by Viking 1.
NASA/JPL

The Viking missions were the first to search for life on that planet, since when others such as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which landed days apart in January 2004, have looked to see if Mars could have had life in the past.

No evidence of life has been found so far, but the techniques available now are far more advanced and we know much more about the planet. We do have abundant evidence of water on Mars.

The benefits of space exploration

Apart from looking for life, why bother with a mission to send humans to Mars? Many aspects of our modern lives would not be possible if it were not for our interest in space.

We rely on satellites for communication, timing and positioning. Satellites help to keep us safe from severe weather, especially in Australia.

The Apollo and other NASA missions led to developments in micro-electronincs that later made it into household devices such as calculators and home computers.

NASA has detailed many of the spinoffs it says stem from its research for exploration of space, which even include the dustbuster.

The modern household dustbuster has its origins in the Apollo Moon missions.
Shutterstock/Sergey Mironov

Intangible, but critical nonetheless, is the inspiration we derive from space exploration. It can be very significant in attracting young people to science and engineering, something needed more and more as our economies continue to transition to an ever higher-tech future.

In the US there was a large spike in tertiary enrolments in science and engineering during the Apollo missions to the Moon.

A new space race

We are using more and more sophisticated craft to explore Mars. It is a broadly international venture involving NASA, the European Space Agency (22 member nations), the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation, the China National Space Administration, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

We are witnessing not only collaboration but competition. Which nation (or company?) will first return to the Moon and then land astronauts on Mars? It is beginning to look like a new space race.

Why focus on Mars? We already know that early in its history, more than three billion years ago, Mars had a surface environment much like that of Earth at the same time, featuring volcanoes, lakes, hot springs, and perhaps even an ocean in the northern hemisphere.

This animation shows how the surface of Mars might have appeared billions of years ago.

Life on Earth then was microbial, the evidence for which is preserved in 3.5 billion year old rocks in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

So we are searching for microbes on Mars. Despite being microscopic, bacteria and their cousins the Archaea are complex organisms. Methane already discovered in the atmosphere of Mars hints at the presence of such life but is not definitive.

If there ever was life on Mars it may still be there, underground where it will be protected from cosmic and ultraviolet radiation. From time to time it might emerge on the surface in some of the gullies that seem to result from the breaching of underground aquifers.

It might not seem exciting to discover former or living microbes, but if we can demonstrate that they represent an independent origin of life the consequences will be profound.

We will be able to predict confidently that there will be life all over the universe. Somewhere out there will be intelligent beings. What might happen then currently lies in the realm of science fiction.

The ConversationThe future lies in more missions to Mars. So far all missions have been one-way and robotic, but plans are underway for a mission to return samples from Mars, and sometime this century there will be astronauts on Mars, not in “colonies” but in research bases like those in Antarctica. It is inevitable.

Malcolm Walter, Professor of Astrobiology, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Who feels the pain of science research budget cuts?

Bruce Weinberg, The Ohio State University

Science funding is intended to support the production of new knowledge and ideas that develop new technologies, improve medical treatments and strengthen the economy. The idea goes back to influential engineer Vannevar Bush, who headed the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II. And the evidence is that science funding does have these effects.

But, at a practical level, science funding from all sources supports research projects, the people who work on them and the businesses that provide the equipment, materials and services used to carry them out. Given current proposed cuts to federal science funding – the Trump administration has, for instance, proposed a 20 percent reduction for the National Institutes of Health – it’s important to know what types of people and businesses are touched by sponsored research projects. This information provides a window into the likely effects of funding cuts.

Most existing research into the effects of science funding tries to quantify research artifacts, such as publications and patents, rather than tracking people. I’ve helped to start an emerging project called the UMETRICS initiative which takes a novel approach to thinking about innovation and science. At its core, UMETRICS views people as key to understanding science and innovation – people conduct research, people are the vectors by which ideas move around and, ultimately, people are one of the primary “products” of the research enterprise.

UMETRICS identifies people employed on scientific projects at universities and the purchases made to carry out those projects. It then tracks people to the businesses and universities that hire them, and purchases to the vendors from which they come. Since UMETRICS relies entirely on administrative data provided by member universities (now around 50), the U.S. Census Bureau and other naturally occurring data, there are no reporting errors, sample coverage concerns or burden for people. It covers essentially all federal research funding as well as some funding from private foundations.

Who does research funding support?

Our administrative data allow us to identify everyone employed on research projects, not just those who appear as authors on research articles. This is valuable because we’re able to identify students and staff, who may be less likely to author papers than faculty and postdocs but who turn out to be an important part of the workforce on funded research projects. It’s like taking into account everyone who works in a particular store, not just the manager and owner.

We compared the distribution of people supported on research projects at some of the largest National Science Foundation (NSF) Divisions and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Institutes and Centers. Together, the NSF and NIH support close to 70 percent of federally funded academic R&D.

The striking thing is that the majority of people employed on research projects are somewhere in the training pipeline, whether undergraduates; graduate students, who are particularly prevalent at NSF; or postdocs, who are more prevalent at NIH. Staff frequently constitute 40 percent of the NIH-supported workforce, but faculty are a relatively small portion of the workforce at all NIH Institutes and NSF Divisions.

Based on these results, it seems likely that changes in federal research funding will have substantial effects on trainees, which would naturally have implications for the future STEM workforce.

What happens to STEM doctoral recipients?

Given the importance of trainees in the research workforce, we have focused much of our research on graduate students.

We mapped the universities in our sample and the share of the graduate students in each state one year after graduation. Our data show that many grad students contribute to local economies – 12.7 percent are within 50 miles of the universities where they trained. For six of our eight universities, more people stayed in state than went to any other single state. At the same time, graduate students fan out nationally, with both coasts, Illinois and Texas all being common destinations.

The doctoral recipients in our sample are also more likely to take jobs at establishments that are engines of the knowledge economy. They are heavily overrepresented in industries such as electronics, semiconductors, computers and pharmaceuticals, and underrepresented in industries such as restaurants, grocery stores and hotels. Doctoral degree recipients are almost four times as likely as the average U.S. worker to be employed by an R&D-performing firm (44 percent versus 12.6 percent). And, the establishments where the doctoral degree recipients work have a median payroll of over US$90,000 per worker compared to $33,000 for all U.S. establishments and $61,000 for establishments owned by R&D performing firms.

We also studied initial earnings by field and find that earnings of doctoral degree recipients are highest in engineering; math and computer science; and physics. Among the STEM fields, the lowest earnings are in biology and health, but our data also suggest that many of the people in these fields take postdoc positions that have low earnings, which may improve long-run earnings prospects. Interestingly, we find that women have substantially lower earnings than men, but these differences are entirely accounted for by field of study, marital status and presence of children.

Taken as a whole, our research indicates that the workers trained on research projects play a critical role in the industries and at companies critical for our new, knowledge economy.

What purchases do research projects drive?

Researchers need to buy the equipment they use to do their science.
Michael Pereckas, CC BY-SA

Another way in which sponsored research projects affect the economy in the short run is through purchases of equipment, supplies and services. Economist Paula Stephan writes eloquently of these transactions, which range from purchasing computers and software, to reagents, medical imaging equipment or telescopes, even to lab mice and rats.

Still unpublished work studying the vendors who sell to sponsored research projects at universities shows that many of the firms selling to sponsored research projects are frequently high-tech and often local. Moreover, firms that are vendors to university research projects are more likely to open new establishments near their campus customers. Thus, there is some evidence that research projects directly stimulate local economies.

The ConversationSo while the goal of sponsored research projects is to develop new knowledge, they also support the training of highly skilled STEM workers and support activity at businesses. The UMETRICS initiative allows us to see just which people and businesses are touched by sponsored research projects, providing a window into the short-run effects of research funding as well as hinting at its long-run value.

Bruce Weinberg, Professor of Economics, The Ohio State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Research transparency: 5 questions about open science answered

Elizabeth Gilbert, The Medical University of South Carolina and Katie Corker, Grand Valley State University

What is “open science”?

Open science is a set of practices designed to make scientific processes and results more transparent and accessible to people outside the research team. It includes making complete research materials, data and lab procedures freely available online to anyone. Many scientists are also proponents of open access, a parallel movement involving making research articles available to read without a subscription or access fee.

Why are researchers interested in open science? What problems does it aim to address?

Recent research finds that many published scientific findings might not be reliable. For example, researchers have reported being able to replicate only 40 percent or less of cancer biology results, and a large-scale attempt to replicate 100 recent psychology studies successfully reproduced fewer than half of the original results.

This has come to be called a “reproducibility crisis.” It’s pushed many scientists to look for ways to improve their research practices and increase study reliability. Practicing open science is one way to do so. When scientists share their underlying materials and data, other scientists can more easily evaluate and attempt to replicate them.

Also, open science can help speed scientific discovery. When scientists share their materials and data, others can use and analyze them in new ways, potentially leading to new discoveries. Some journals are specifically dedicated to publishing data sets for reuse (Scientific Data; Journal of Open Psychology Data). A paper in the latter has already been cited 17 times in under three years – nearly all these citations represent new discoveries, sometimes on topics unrelated to the original research.

Wait – open science sounds just like the way I learned in school that science works. How can this be new?

Under the status quo, science is shared through a single vehicle: Researchers publish journal articles summarizing their studies’ methods and results. The key word here is summary; to write a clear and succinct article, important details may be omitted. Journal articles are vetted via the peer review process, in which an editor and a few experts assess them for quality before publication. But – perhaps surprisingly – the primary data and materials underlying the article are almost never reviewed.

Historically, this made some sense because journal pages were limited, and storing and sharing materials and data were difficult. But with computers and the internet, it’s much easier to practice open science. It’s now feasible to store large quantities of information on personal computers, and online repositories to share study materials and data are becoming more common. Recently, some journals have even begun to require or reward open science practices like publicly posting materials and data.

Open science makes sharing data the default.
Bacho via Shutterstock.com

There are still some difficulties sharing extremely large data sets and physical materials (such as the specific liquid solutions a chemist might use), and some scientists might have good reasons to keep some information private (for instance, trade secrets or study participants’ personal information). But as time passes, more and more scientists will likely practice open science. And, in turn, science will improve.

Some do view the open science movement as a return to science’s core values. Most researchers over time have valued transparency as a key ingredient in evaluating the truth of a claim. Now with technology’s help it is much easier to share everything.

Why isn’t open science the default? What incentives work against open science practices?

Two major forces work against adoption of open science practices: habits and reward structures. First, most established researchers have been practicing closed science for years, even decades, and changing these old habits requires some upfront time and effort. Technology is helping speed this process of adopting open habits, but behavioral change is hard.

Second, scientists, like other humans, tend to repeat behaviors that are rewarded and avoid those that are punished. Journal editors have tended to favor publishing papers that tell a tidy story with perfectly clear results. This has led researchers to craft their papers to be free from blemish, omitting “failed” studies that don’t clearly support their theories. But real data are often messy, so being fully transparent can open up researchers to critique.

Additionally, some researchers are afraid of being “scooped” – they worry someone will steal their idea and publish first. Or they fear that others will unfairly benefit from using shared data or materials without putting in as much effort.

Taken together, some researchers worry they will be punished for their openness and are skeptical that the perceived increase in workload that comes with adopting open science habits is needed and worthwhile. We believe scientists must continue to develop systems to allay fears and reward openness.

I’m not a scientist; why should I care?

Open access is the cousin to open science – the idea is that research should be freely available to all, not hidden behind paywalls.
h_pampel, CC BY-SA

Science benefits everyone. If you’re reading this article now on a computer, or have ever benefited from an antibiotic, or kicked a bad habit following a psychologist’s advice, then you are a consumer of science. Open science (and its cousin, open access) means that anyone – including teachers, policymakers, journalists and other nonscientists – can access and evaluate study information.

The ConversationConsidering automatic enrollment in a 401k at work or whether to have that elective screening procedure at the doctor? Want to ensure your tax dollars are spent on policies and programs that actually work? Access to high-quality research evidence matters to you. Open materials and open data facilitate reuse of scientific products, increasing the value of every tax dollar invested. Improving science’s reliability and speed benefits us all.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, The Medical University of South Carolina and Katie Corker, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Grand Valley State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

People don’t trust scientific research when companies are involved

John C. Besley, Michigan State University; Aaron M. McCright, Michigan State University; Joseph D. Martin, University of Leeds; Kevin Elliott, Michigan State University, and Nagwan Zahry, Michigan State University

A soda company sponsoring nutrition research. An oil conglomerate helping fund a climate-related research meeting. Does the public care who’s paying for science?

In a word, yes. When industry funds science, credibility suffers. And this does not bode well for the types of public-private research partnerships that appear to be becoming more prevalent as government funding for research and development lags.

The recurring topic of conflict of interest has made headlines in recent weeks. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine has revised its conflict of interest guidelines following questions about whether members of a recent expert panel on GMOs had industry ties or other financial conflicts that were not disclosed in the panel’s final report.

Our own recent research speaks to how hard it may be for the public to see research as useful when produced with an industry partner, even when that company is just one of several collaborators.

What people think of funding sources

We asked our study volunteers what they thought about a proposed research partnership to study the potential risks related to either genetically modified foods or trans fats.

We randomly assigned participants to each evaluate one of 15 different research partnership arrangements – various combinations of scientists from a university, a government agency, a nongovernmental organization and a large food company.

For example, 1/15th of participants were asked to consider a research collaboration that included only university researchers. Another 1/15th of participants considered a research partnership that included both university and government scientists, and so on. In total we presented four conditions where there was a single type of researcher, another six collaborations with two partners, four with three partners and one with all four partners.

When a research team included an industry partner, our participants were generally less likely to think the scientists would consider a full range of evidence and listen to different voices. An industry partner also reduced how much participants believed any resulting data would provide meaningful guidance for making decisions.

At the outset of our work, we thought including a diverse array of partners in a research collaboration might mitigate the negative perceptions that come with industry involvement. But, while including scientists from a nonindustry organization (particularly a nongovernmental organization) made some difference, the effect was small. Adding a government partner provided no substantive additional benefit.

When we asked participants to describe what they thought about the research partnership in their own words, they were skeptical whether an industry partner could ever be trusted to release information that might hurt its profits.

Our results may be even more troubling because we chose a company with a good reputation. We used pretests to select particular examples – of a corporation, as well as a university, government agency and nongovernmental organization – that had relatively high positive ratings and relatively low negative ratings in a test sample.

Can industry do valid science?

You don’t have to look far for real-life examples of poorly conducted or intentionally misleading industry research. The pharmaceutical, chemical, nutrition and petroleum industries have all weathered criticism of their research integrity, and for good reason. These ethically questionable episodes no doubt fuel public skepticism of industry research. Stories of pharmaceutical companies conducting less than rigorous clinical trials for the benefit of their marketing departments, or the tobacco industry steadfastly denying the connection between smoking and cancer in the face of mounting evidence, help explain public concern about industry-funded science.

But industry generally has a long and impressive history of supporting scientific research and technical development. Industry-supported research has generated widely adopted technologies, driven the evolution of entire economic sectors, improved processes that were harmful to public health and the environment and won Nobel Prizes. And as scientists not currently affiliated with industry scramble to fund their research in an era of tight budgets, big companies have money to underwrite science.

Does it matter within what kind of institution a researcher hangs her lab coat?
Vivien Rolfe, CC BY-SA

Can this lack of trust be overcome? Moving forward, it will be essential to address incentives such as short-term profit or individual recognition that can encourage poor research – in any institutional context. By showing how quickly people may judge industry-funded research, our work indicates that it’s critical to think about how the results of that research can be communicated effectively.

Our results should worry those who want research to be evaluated largely on its scientific merits, rather than based upon the affiliations of those involved.

Although relatively little previous scholarship has investigated this topic, we expected to find that including multiple, nonindustry organizations in a scientific partnership might, at least partly, assuage participants’ concerns about industry involvement. This reflects our initial tentative belief that, given the resources and expertise within industry, there must be some way to create public-private partnerships that produce high-quality research which is perceived widely as such.

Our interdisciplinary team – a risk communication scholar, a sociologist, a philosopher of science, a historian of science and a toxicologist – is also examining philosophical arguments and historical precedents for guidance on these issues.

Philosophy can tell us a great deal about how the values of investigators can influence their results. And history shows that not so long ago, up until a few decades after World War II, many considered industry support a way to uphold research integrity by protecting it from government secrecy regimes.

Looking forward, we are planning additional social scientific experiments to examine how specific procedures that research partnerships sometimes use may affect public views about collaborations with industry partners. For example, perhaps open-data policies, transparency initiatives or external reviewer processes may alleviate bias concerns.

Given the central role that industry plays in scientific research and development, it is important to explore strategies for designing multi-sector research collaborations that can generate legitimate, high-quality results while being perceived as legitimate by the public.

John C. Besley, Associate Professor of Advertising and Public Relations, Michigan State University; Aaron M. McCright, Associate Professor of Sociology, Michigan State University; Joseph D. Martin, Fellow-in-Residence at the Consortium for History of Science, Technology, and Medicine and Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science, University of Leeds; Kevin Elliott, Associate Professor of Fisheries & Wildlife and Philosophy, Michigan State University, and Nagwan Zahry, PhD Student in Media and Information Studies, Michigan State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Can industrialists publish scientific papers?

This forum is part of the MISTA conference series web site.

If you look at the scientific literature you might think that most of the work that is reported is theoretical in nature. It depends, of course, how you define theoretical but you would probably be right. And the scientific community makes no apologies for this as, by its nature, it is what they do.

However, there is a need for practitioners to report their results and experiences in the scientific literature so that the community is aware of real world applications and what is happening outside of the theoretical world that many academics occupy.

Indeed, some scientific journals welcome articles that essentially describe case studies so that we can all learn from these experiences. Some of the journals that spring to mind are the Journal of the Operational Research Society, Interfaces and the Journal of Scheduling (if you know of others, please feel free to post them as a reply to this post)

The benefits of publishing in the scientific literature include the following:

  1. It gets your message out there, so that others might benefit from it.
  2. It places a marker in the sand, that indicates that you reported this work before anybody else (in a scientific sense).
  3. You might be able to use the scientific paper in your marketing material to show that the approaches you are using have been validated by the scientific community.
  4. It might enable engagement with the scientific community which might improve your systems even more.
  5. It might prompt interest from the media who regularly look at what is being published in the hope of getting a story.

The barriers to industrialists publishing in the scientific literature include:

  1. You may not know what the scientific literature is, let alone how to access it.
  2. You simply don’t have enough time, or maybe even the motivation, to write a scientific paper.
  3. Even if you are able to read at a scientific paper, it might not be obvious how to go about writing one.
  4. If you have an idea for a paper, how do you go about getting it published, after you have written it?
  5. Of the thousands of journals out there, how do you choose which one to target?
  6. If you submit a paper to a journal what do you do if you get critical reviewer comments or, even worse, the paper is rejected?

So, how can the industrial community write scientific papers, and be better represented in the scientific literature?

Here are just a few ways that might work for you:

  1. Respond to this post if you are interested in accessing the scientific literature. There might be people reading this forum who would be willing to work with you to help get your work published.
  2. Google (other search engines are available) your idea and see if anything comes up which is associated with a university. Then try contacting the academic who seems to be involved in that project.
  3. Take a look at Google Scholar (as opposed to just Google). This just searches scientific papers and you might find an academic who has expertise in your area of interest.
  4. Most universities have a Business Engagement department. Try contacting them.
  5. The MISTA conference series is interested in seeing more papers and presentations that describe real world problems, and solutions to those problems. If you are interested in discussing such a paper, please feel free to contact one to the conference chairs. The worst they can say is that the suggestion is not suitable for MISTA.

Writing a scientific paper for the first time can be daunting (in fact it is!) but it could be just what your company needs to promote itself to a wider community that you probably don’t have access to otherwise. And, if you need help and advice, then there are plenty of people around who would be more than happy to assist.

Respond to this forum post and see if it leads to anything.