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Scientists not only need to discover new knowledge but also have to share the knowledge to others. For the former, we have things like universities, collaborate groups and journals to take charge. For the latter, we have various forms from teaching, developing and maintaining softwares to writing or translating books, writing and editing in Wikipedia, answering (and asking) in SE, joining an academic club, working on a academic-related project, blogging, etc.

Besides the first two have significant weight in academia, the others seem to be light weight (some even say that they have zero weight) (example for Wikipedia, translating book). Although I understand the worry that I may spread myself too thin, I think the important thing is scheduling time wisely. I don't think they are deserved to be bad effective. In fact some scholarships (like this one) require me to describe "any examples of leadership and involvement in my university or home community". I have even seen some high rep users modestly proudly say that they are active users in SE in their websites. I see a conflict here. Can you explain why contribution to community is deprecated in academia?

A very interesting question from F'x: How can a researcher improve his contribution to society?

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    The other answer is that this is not the case at all schools. Some second and third tier schools do value service and teaching over original scholarship. And I think that's just about right, that we need an ecosystem with variety. So, you'll need to reword your question to "When will top schools value contribution to community?" – RoboKaren Feb 6 '15 at 18:01
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    @Ooker "Top" schools is usually meant to understand "the schools with the best research". Clearly, in order to be the best in research, those schools need to value research more than everything else. – xLeitix Feb 6 '15 at 18:17
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    @ooker - There were some votes to close this question so I edited and modified the nature of the question from the unanswerable ("when will") to the answerable ("why is") and flipped the negative to positive (from "why not value" to "why deprecated"). In part this is because I feel xLeitx's answer is noteworthy and needs retention in A.SE. Feel free to roll back changes if it is not appropriate. – RoboKaren Feb 6 '15 at 19:09
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    "I don't think they are deserved to be bad effective." I'm unclear what this means. – Faheem Mitha Feb 7 '15 at 11:04
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    @scaaahu a very interesting question. I have added it into my question. – Ooker Feb 13 '15 at 9:24
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Scientists not only need to discover new knowledge but also have to share the knowledge to others. For the former, we have things like universities, collaborate groups and journals to take charge. For the latter, we have various forms from teaching, developing and maintaining softwares to writing or translating books, writing and editing in Wikipedia, answering (and asking) in SE, joining an academic club, working on a academic-related project, blogging, etc.

I think this is not correct. Discovering new knowledge is the actual research (valued on all levels), "sharing to others" is writing publications (valued so much that the common criticism is rather that publications count too much).

What you mean is a different type of knowledge dissemination, basically the education of the broader public. This is indeed currently not widely valued, but I am not convinced that this is a fault of the system. Essentially, when an university hires a researcher, they want a researcher. They are specifically looking for somebody that generates new knowledge, not somebody that is good at breaking down this new knowledge for the layman (this would be a science journalist, or somesuch), nor for somebody that mainly collects and summarizes the knowledge on Wikipedia or Stack Exchange.

Hence, the answer to your question:

When will contribution to community be valued?

If you understand this as "when will my contributions to community be comparatively valuable for applying to a research position as research results", then the answer will likely be "never".

  • Thanks for your answer. If so, what about the scholarship mentioned above? – Ooker Feb 6 '15 at 18:30
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    +1 Vulgarization of existing knowledge and generating new knowledge are two different jobs. – Cape Code Feb 6 '15 at 21:20
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    @BrenBarn No, there is no a priori reason why universities have to value conducting research more than community outreach. Yet research is what universities commonly understand to be their mission, and I see no reason why this would change in the foreseeable future. And as long as the mission of universities primarily is research and research-oriented teaching, being a good researcher will remain more important for any decisions than anything else. – xLeitix Feb 6 '15 at 21:35
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    @BrenBarn Fair enough, but this is also not what the OP is talking about. Oozer specifically mentions community services such as SE, Wikipedia, and translating books, none of which can be considered an alternative way to disseminate original research. – xLeitix Feb 6 '15 at 21:55
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    @Ooker There is not infinite time. If you want your researchers to spend time translating books, they will do less original research. If your goal is to have as much research as possible, you don't want this. – xLeitix Feb 7 '15 at 14:36
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Software is in a gray area right now. As more and more software is required for research, and as younger faculty who have numerous important software products join budget councils (tenure committees, etc.), then the respect for software artifacts will increase. Until people with little to no respect for software age off of these committees, it will be harder (or impossible) for software to contribute directly to tenure decisions at major research universities.

Of course, that's not necessarily enough for software to gain prominence either. Theoretically, the (hand/spreadsheet) calculations, theorems, and experiments in an article are verified in some form through the peer-review process. To date, outside of the statistics-using literature (maybe) where some venues require the publication of programs and data, codes aren't peer-reviewed or published in a traditional way. This gives software an uphill battle for prominence in the minds of tenure reviewers. Until your million-line Fortran simulation code has been peer reviewed, it's likely to remain a lesser contribution to tenure cases (if it gets added at all). I know some committee members who are trying to get software to count, but I haven't been around for discussions of how it might be peer reviewed or what the expectations would be.

The other things you mention (clubs, translations, SE, Wikipedia, etc.) are not classically peer reviewed and aren't creating new knowledge, so they aren't really relevant to tenure committees at research universities. You may find more interest in some of these other things at teaching-focused colleges and universities, but I have no experience with that.

Maybe my focus on tenure here is misguided, but it seems to be the driving force in what matters in academia. Everything else seems to be secondary (Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, perhaps, also contributing highly). Interestingly, some of the things you mention, especially open source and highly used software, may help more with grants from government agencies. Their priorities are different and do drive incentives for academics. Fortunately, along with research products (peer reviewed articles) and teaching, grants do factor strongly into tenure decisions. Some of the other things you mention (alternative dissemination, etc) might factor into what NSF considers "broader impacts", but unless the focus of your grant is on these things specifically, the "intellectual merit" of your proposal will have much more weight among the reviewers of your grants.

I don't see much of this changing rapidly unless a department at a university makes a very public push to include some of these things in their tenure process and wins away some top-notch faculty doing it. If that were to happen (unlikely), other departments might be forced to follow along. The maverick department would have to have some tremendous steals and tremendous research wins over a sustained period to really have an effect, though.

  • Good answer. I have a question for you. You write "Until people with little to no respect for software age off of these committees, it will be harder (or impossible) for software to contribute directly to tenure decisions at major research universities." The phrasing of this sentence suggests that you think (a) older people have less experience with software and (b) it is inevitable that software will assume more importance in academia as time goes on. I guess (a) isn't that controversial (or interesting), but does (b) correctly represent what you think, or is it just a possibility? – Faheem Mitha Feb 7 '15 at 11:17
  • @FaheemMitha, I work in advanced scientific computing, and I think it would be wrong for science if we did not eventually bring the kind of importance to software artifacts (peer review, open access, counting towards tenure, etc) that we have to written articles about research results and design and implementation of experimental research tools. Science needs to take this step, but has not committed yet. Is it inevitable? The sun could explode tomorrow, so I won't comment on that. Also, older people may simply have a bias towards traditional metrics not a lack of experience. Change is hard. – Bill Barth Feb 7 '15 at 14:51
  • Isn't that we have simulated model a long time ago, since Neumann era? It must have been 50 years. I think all scientists must know the important of simulation, therefore must respect the softwares. – Ooker Feb 8 '15 at 8:16
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    @Ooker, I don't serve on tenure committees, but my discussions with those who do lead me to believe that having a widely used open source scientific software product counts for very little when it comes to granting tenure. It is still the peer reviewed articles about the results from or methods in that software that are used to decide about tenure. Also, as I was told at my PhD defense, "No one in this department ever got a PhD for writing a code!" – Bill Barth Feb 8 '15 at 14:22

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