Rescuing US biomedical research from its systemic flaws.
There has perhaps never been a more exciting time to be involved in neuroscience research. The huge challenge of understanding the workings of the brain and mind are increasingly tractable because of an explosion in new and powerful methodologies that can be used in animals or humans or both. Over 15% of all scientific papers published worldwide are related to the brain or behaviour (http:// www.elsevier.com/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/236730/ElsevierBrainScienceReport2014-web.pdf). Highly intelligent and capable young researchers are eager to be involved in neuroscience research and many are undoubtedly attracted by the possibility of answering questions that could barely be asked even 20 years ago. But there is also a dark side to our field that we need to understand and limit if we are to avoid losing talented young researchers at such an important moment. In an ideal scientific world, bright ideas lead to hypotheses that are tested by performing carefully designed, well-controlled and rigorous experiments. These lead to exciting results that form the basis of a paper that is written and submitted for publication, followed by the rapid receipt of a letter of acceptance. But life is rarely like that. Why? The bright ideas come for free, although they require long-term individual investment in hard thinking about the research to be undertaken based on a comprehensive understanding of what is known and what is not. Invest in this process and cherish your brainwaves! They are a rare commodity that emanate from your own personal engagement with your field of research. The first real hurdle then to be faced is to acquire the funds, in the form of fellowships and grants, in order to undertake the research. Although occasionally a single pair of hands can complete a major study, in order to answer big questions several pairs of hands and a collaborative group of researchers are often required. While universities and institutes may provide some of the necessary lab infrastructure, financial support for human resources, both researchers and technicians, as well as equipment and consumables must be obtained from funding agencies. This has become increasingly difficult. Success rates for European Research Council starting grants hover well below 10% (http:// erc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/document/file/erc_2013_stg_statistics. pdf). The first rounds of Horizon 2020 grants saw a 3% success rate. This is not just confined to Europe. Recent data from NIH show that the average age at which American scientists receive their first RO1 grant (a substantial personal grant by NIH) has increased from 36 to 42 (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/new_investigators/). Alberts et al. (2014) have recently argued that the system is dysfunctional and increasingly out of control. Despite the good news that, since 1996, 1.7 million active researchers worldwide were investigating the brain (http://www.elsevier.com/__data/assets/ pdf_file/0003/236730/ElsevierBrainScienceReport2014-web.pdf), the inevitable downside is that there are simply too many neuroscientists competing for limited funds. Under such conditions, self-interest unfortunately often overrides efforts towards a common good. Many are so focused on their own success that the important qualities of working together, of team spirit and helping others may have somewhat lost their appeal. This may be an adaptive and profitable course of action in the short term, but it is counter-productive in the long run, not least because we must reach out and help the next generation of researchers, our own successors. It is therefore important that teaching is properly valued and not seen, as so often it is, as a distraction from research. We agree entirely with Alberts et al. (2014) that the system that has evolved needs to change, and the only way this can happen is through the concerted action of (neuro) scientists themselves. Those of our colleagues who have made a deliberate choice to invest in the neuroscience community as a whole through their work on university, grant and scientific society committees, sometimes with a cost to their scientific output, should be valued in a reformed system. There are wonderful examples in Europe of exceptional neuroscientists who have opted to play a role in both European and national politics or who through personal perseverance have secured large amounts of funding either at the European level or for their national neuroscience communities. Let us assume that the research funding is available, bright young scientists have been recruited to undertake groundbreaking studies and original and compelling data are collected. The next obstacle to be faced is publishing the results. In the electronic era in which we live it might be assumed that it makes little difference where the papers are published, provided of course that the work is subject to careful peer review. After all, the power of search engines and the right keywords will enable any publication to be found, no matter where it is published. This simple truth is negated by a very influential factor: prestige. Some journals have kept the number of published articles low by rejecting as many as 90% of submitted articles in order to keep the Impact Factor high. It seems counter-intuitive that even some Society journals have adopted this path, to the detriment of their own members to whom the message appears to be that only a very limited number of them, or only a limited proportion of their work, is worthy of publication in the journal that represents their field. This element of exclusivity has proven to be so attractive that we continue to submit our papers to Correspondence: Marian Jo€els, as above. E-mail: email@example.com