Bars and Medals. Marder, E. eLife, 4:e05787+, February, 2015.
doi  abstract   bibtex   
There can only be one gold medal in each event at the Olympics. In science, on the other hand, as Eve Marder explains, it is more important to recognize excellence in its many different forms than it is to identify a winner. [Excerpt] [...] While it is tempting to use the metaphor of the 'bar' as a way of asking whether a person is 'good enough' to merit promoting (or if a manuscript is 'good enough' to merit publishing), this facile comparison hides many essential differences between deciding who wins the gold medal in the Olympic pole vault competition and what is important when judging excellence in science. In the pole vault, there can only be one winner in each competition. Moreover, the criterion for naming the winner is unitary, agreed upon, and entirely unambiguous. Nothing we do in science is analogous. We are, we hope, promoting many great scientists and publishing many great papers. The purpose of a tenure and promotion committee or an editorial board is not to find the single gold medalist, but to recognize excellence, often across many dimensions, including some that are difficult or impossible to quantify. [\n] Of course, there are instances in academic science in which there can be only one successful candidate. If a department is doing a search for a new assistant professor, for example, there is often only one position available at a given time. However, it is not uncommon for the first choice candidate to decline the position. More importantly, if search committees are honest with themselves, they will usually acknowledge that there are multiple exceptional candidates who differ in many qualities, and that the decision is rarely so simple as 'Who is better?'. More often the relevant question is: 'Who is the best fit for what we are trying to achieve, since we are forced to make a choice?' [...] [\n] In our zeal to reward excellence by awarding prizes and selecting individuals for the gold medals of science, we should be careful to remember that all findings in science build on work of less-honored people, and that all medals and prizes should properly celebrate the reality that, as a community, we have made significant progress in understanding our world. For every gold medal awarded in science to highly deserving individuals, there are many equally deserving individuals who have not been so honored. [...]
@article{marderBarsMedals2015,
  title = {Bars and Medals},
  author = {Marder, Eve},
  year = {2015},
  month = feb,
  volume = {4},
  pages = {e05787+},
  issn = {2050-084X},
  doi = {10.7554/elife.05787},
  abstract = {There can only be one gold medal in each event at the Olympics. In science, on the other hand, as Eve Marder explains, it is more important to recognize excellence in its many different forms than it is to identify a winner.

[Excerpt] [...] While it is tempting to use the metaphor of the 'bar' as a way of asking whether a person is 'good enough' to merit promoting (or if a manuscript is 'good enough' to merit publishing), this facile comparison hides many essential differences between deciding who wins the gold medal in the Olympic pole vault competition and what is important when judging excellence in science. In the pole vault, there can only be one winner in each competition. Moreover, the criterion for naming the winner is unitary, agreed upon, and entirely unambiguous. Nothing we do in science is analogous. We are, we hope, promoting many great scientists and publishing many great papers. The purpose of a tenure and promotion committee or an editorial board is not to find the single gold medalist, but to recognize excellence, often across many dimensions, including some that are difficult or impossible to quantify.

[\textbackslash n] Of course, there are instances in academic science in which there can be only one successful candidate. If a department is doing a search for a new assistant professor, for example, there is often only one position available at a given time. However, it is not uncommon for the first choice candidate to decline the position. More importantly, if search committees are honest with themselves, they will usually acknowledge that there are multiple exceptional candidates who differ in many qualities, and that the decision is rarely so simple as 'Who is better?'. More often the relevant question is: 'Who is the best fit for what we are trying to achieve, since we are forced to make a choice?' [...]

[\textbackslash n] In our zeal to reward excellence by awarding prizes and selecting individuals for the gold medals of science, we should be careful to remember that all findings in science build on work of less-honored people, and that all medals and prizes should properly celebrate the reality that, as a community, we have made significant progress in understanding our world. For every gold medal awarded in science to highly deserving individuals, there are many equally deserving individuals who have not been so honored. [...]},
  journal = {eLife},
  keywords = {*imported-from-citeulike-INRMM,~INRMM-MiD:c-13558300,peer-review,research-metrics,science-ethics},
  lccn = {INRMM-MiD:c-13558300}
}
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