Publish Less, Perish More

Scientific publishing is broken. Most published research findings are false (spare the ironic citation joke, please).  What to do? Stimulus money is needed, that much is sure.  We must form committees! Establish a National Council for the Validity of Published Research.  Let’s get some NASA-level bureaucracy up in this piece.  We need protocols and fact checking and procedures and theorem checking widgets!  I’ll spearhead this beast.  Pay me $420,000 a year of public tax money, please.

I have a better idea.

Publish. Less.

The pressure to grow one’s scholarly phallus is too large for most to ignore.  We must publish or perish.  Grants don’t get funded unless we splatter our names across journals and conferences the world over.  Grad students don’t graduate.  Post docs don’t get jobs.  Assistants and adjuncts don’t get tenure.  Your CV is fewer than 5 pages?  You must be stupid.  Join more vacuous clubs, dues-hungry societies, and enter more regional poster conferences.  Get back to us when you’ve padded that sucker out to 10 pages.

What if we did a little more thinking and a little less sharing?  What if a publication was thoroughly peer reviewed?  But there’s no time for this, right? Everyone is too busy, right?  There’s the rub.  We’d have the time to check our research if we stop shotgunning our whims at every conference with two legs and a skimpy dress.  Suddenly, we’d see the ridiculous page limit requirements relax.  We’d no longer have to fit complex talks into 12.225 minutes.  Most importantly, we might start to understand what the hell other people are talking about.  Fancy that, a presentation outside your narrow niche that you can follow?

Let me list just one more.  I shudder to write this, but maybe, just maybe, we’d see some effort put into how to present an idea rather than how to lose the audience with a crappy power point and exorbitant formulæ.

Blasphemy.  Deny this man a job.  He stands for idleness and ivory-tower introspection.  Science is about progress and speed and lasers and intellectually one-upping our peers.

I don’t propose to have a great plan to fix this systematic lunacy.  Like many system-wide problems, it’s likely the change must come from the individual level.  Some scientists have a publication list so long it would be humanly impossible for them to give even a cursory summary of each paper.  This needs to end.  “Paper factory” labs are not homes to prolific scientists; they are homes to prolific publishers.  The two terms are less synonymous than most scientists would like to think.

The solution to this problem is heartbreakingly simple.  Science needs to slow down.  Without the pressure to put out short blurb papers every 2 weeks, we might get thorough, lengthy, reproducible publications.  Isn’t this what publication is about?  What do we gain from a 4 inch thick tome of ten trillion conference abstracts?  It’s a whole lot of people saying things that a whole bunch of other people are too busy to verify.  This gets accepted by grant committees and employers and deans as the sign of productivity.  It’s high time for said parties to reevaluate this metric.

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~ by wcuk on September 9, 2009.

6 Responses to “Publish Less, Perish More”

  1. Freakin’ fantastic post. Being a grad student myself and writing up my PhD thesis, I agree with this completely. I’ve been asked before why I haven’t published this data or that data. Their reason for, it’s better to publish questionable or incomplete data in a shit journal than not to publish at all. My reasons for not, it’s not science.

  2. Reddited: http://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/9iw6w/wed_have_the_time_to_check_our_research_if_we/

    Seriously, this pressure to publish many papers must stop. We’re having a downfall of academy.

  3. Superb and agreed.

  4. Wasn’t the original point of publishing in a major journal based on the fact that papers would be STRENUOUSLY peer reviewed? Maybe you should start your own journal “The Journal of Scientific Common Sense.” Feel free to take that title.

  5. Yep…and if you are one of the few scientists that still believe in the intergrity of your science you are left with no money, working 12 hours a day seven days a week, and drinking away your sadness…I wish someone warned me before I started….

  6. Hi,

    I’m a science journalist and I’m interested in some of the points your raise here. I’d be interested in interviewing you for a feature I’m writing. Please get in touch!

    Cheers,
    Sarah

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