"Ponzi schemes are typically scams that involve the recruitment of investors, who initially receive high returns for their investments and recruit other investors – until this pyramid collapses, and those at the bottom end up losing all their money. Meanwhile, those at the top of the pyramid disappear with the "earnings". Does this bear any similarity to the pyramidal systems that exist in the sciences at academic institutes and universities?
At universities across the globe, there are principal investigators or professors who run research labs. To carry out their ideas, they need to recruit students who are able to carry out the experiments and test the validity of their hypotheses. But will these students, at the lower rungs of the totem pole, eventually turn into professors? Or will their investments be wasted treadmilling in a career leading nowhere?
Having talked to scientists from more than a dozen countries, I think it's clear that the system of scientific research bears far too much similarity to Ponzi schemes.
A devil's advocate might counter that in every type of occupation there is a pyramidal system, with fewer managers on the top and many laborers on the bottom of the pay scale. That only a relatively select few – the very top students – will make it through successful post-doctoral stints to academic positions.
Yes, this is true – but it's also not the problem.
The problem, as I see it, is the misrepresentation of students' career options to them. Or more accurately, the general failure to inform students (as well as post-doctoral fellows) of their career options and train them for a wide variety of scientific careers, including the many opportunities that exist outside academia. It is also necessary to unequivocally explain the possibilities (statistically or specifically) that a student has to obtain an independent academic research position...."