K. VijayRaghavan, the principal scientific advisor, recently announced that the government was considering monetary benefits to incentivise research scholars to have their studies published and ideas patented. This is a welcome step.
Such an incentive could increase the number of papers published in good journals as well as contribute to the overall development of a country’s scientific community.
Other scientists have argued that such incentives could also promote unethical research practices. However, it is important to understand one can’t simply publish more papers in (legitimate, peer-reviewed) journals. We still have to clear our supervisors and peer-reviewers, and neither group has anything to do with this incentive.
Additionally, research misconduct is already prevalent in India because of the ‘publish or perish’ mentality, among other reasons. Therefore, it would be better to set up ways to scrutinise and eliminate malpractice instead of abolishing incentives that could improve the situation.
Another point of contention is the difference in amounts being considered for papers in Indian and international journals: Rs 20,000 for the former and Rs 50,000 for the latter. It may not be proper to determine the value of a journal based on its impact factor. However, the difference in grant amounts only reflects the relative importance of international journals among scientists and scientific institutions.
Policies like this are typically devised to improve research output in a field. It is the individual who must have the moral responsibility to follow ethical practices.
It’s important to keep the broader context in which research is undertaken in mind. It is true that India as a whole lags far behind other ‘powers’ in its league, especially in its capacity for productive research and innovation. Part of the reason for this is that researchers, and their needs, have often been neglected despite the transformative potential of their work.
A lackadaisical administration, poor facilities and flawed career advancement schemes have prevented, and continue to prevent, school-goers from considering careers in research.
The education system also leaves much to be desired. In many countries, postdoctoral fellows from around the world contribute greatly to research and development. However, research in India relies mostly on PhD scholars. And many of these scholars are not well-trained at the masters’, or even at the undergraduate, level.
Additionally, the quality of mentorship and infrastructure is such that only those students inherently motivated to do good science do good science. The others don’t, and a PhD by itself doesn’t offer any incentives to do so.
Some universities require a student to publish at least one paper in order to receive her PhD. However, the average length of a PhD programme is five years, more than enough time in which to fulfil this requirement.
In these conditions – and not in the conditions where labs are well-staffed, well-equipped and well-paid – monetary incentives based on quality of publication will push students to do more and better work. This will simply be the result of marrying research with the advantages of a historically more lucrative field, like engineering.
Such a scheme could also encourage scholars to be more competitive, inculcate sustainable habits to produce more, and aspire to elevate the quality of the labs to which they belong. A rewards scheme for patents is also welcome for the same reasons.
Like any policy, there are bound to be shortcomings in this one as well. However, it might be more worthwhile to consider ways of fixing them instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
It isn’t clear at the moment if the Ministry of Human Resource Development and/or the Department of Science and Technology plan to extend these incentives to pre-PhD students as well. They should.
Sudhakar Srivastava received his PhD from the CSIR-National Botanical Research Institute in 2009 and worked for four years as a postdoc at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba. He is currently a postdoc at the Beijing Forestry University.