On scientific publishing

Three very interesting texts, all courtesy of James Coyne.

Can an Author be Too Prolific?

"For this congress, Wager teamed up with a systems analyst and an editor from The Lancet to investigate the seemingly superhuman feats of certain authors. Without naming names (and risking a defamation suit) Wager, Sanjay Singhvi, and Sabine Kleinert presented a study Sunday in which they identified 24 authors whose names were listed on at least one publication every 2 weeks for an entire year. These types of numbers, Wager says, fall well beyond the 99th percentile for the more than 160,000 authors measured, and should send a clear signal to university administrators or journal editors that something is amiss."

Publication Pressure and Burn Out among Dutch Medical Professors: A Nationwide Survey

"A substantial proportion of medical professors believe that publication pressure has become excessive, and have a cynical view on the validity of medical science. These perceptions are statistically correlated to burn out symptoms. Further research should address the effects of publication pressure in more detail and identify alternative ways to stimulate the quality of medical science."

The long tail of academic publishing and why that isn’t a bad thing

"The long tail in academic terms represents a whole range of people who produce a modest amount of research around an almost equally large number of research topics. The benefits of this are that the range of research that is carried out by a university is broad and diverse. This should factor into the overall quality of the teaching that the university carries out, which is also usually broad in coverage. It also factors into the potential impact and social engagement ability that the university is able to bring to bear."

Taken together, these texts point to the problems created by current forms of evaluating researchers and institutions, which place an undue emphasis on quantitative data, and is clearly distorting science itself. As additional evidence, look at the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) – which I signed, by the way.

We have to rethink such processes, before irrecoverable damage is done to the whole area of academic publishing – that is, if that has not already occurred.

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