This is the hardest post I’ve written.
Competition is often touted as the most efficient way to get best results. Typically its proponents do not mention why it is efficient*.
Sometimes it motivates people to do their best. But when the motivation originates from fear of losing rather than intrinsic motivation for winning, it burns up psychological/emotional resources that are not reflected by anything immediately observable or measurable.
Sometimes it gets its efficiency from externalizing costs to competitors. When not all win, but all used resources (psychological/emotional, but also work time, opportunities, etc.) to try to win, the organizer of the competition only pays the winners, and the losers bear their costs themselves.
Academia uses both of these.
Science would be better if scientists did the best they could do because they wanted to, and did not take the safest course because they were afraid (see replication crisis).
Academia would be better if it did not make academics burn up resources that should be used for something else than competing meaninglessly. In many – maybe most – cases, the funders burn up more resources from the whole population of competitors than they give out to the winners. And despite all this waste, we have no evidence that the function of distributing the resources (funding, positions) to scientists is better than random.
I would be better if my self-worth was not so integrally tied to being a researcher, that when the soul-crushing competition for funding takes away my resources – the resources that I use at least partly on the expense of my family, because they appreciate that science is important to me – from actually doing research, I feel like I’m not doing enough.
This post was not neutral, nor well sourced. I’m bitter, and depressed, and burnt out, and now starting a sick leave because of that. I have a strong passion for science, but the competition in academia is actively keeping me from doing science.
*) When it is – it is entirely dependent on how the competition is arranged whether the efficiency is actually directed at what is really wanted. You get what you measure, etc.