Saturday, November 20, 2010

33. There is too much academic publishing.

Everyone is required to publish. “Publish or perish” is the rule in a research university, where faculty members are expected to make continual contributions to their fields. A faculty member has no hope of acquiring tenure or getting a promotion without an ever-lengthening record of publication, but the pressure to publish is so intense that even graduate students are now expected to publish research. The job market being what it is, graduate students can be certain that their competition has a record of publication, so they had best have one, too.

All of this publishing has to appear somewhere, so there are now thousands of academic journals. The subscription fees for these journals (particularly those in medicine and the sciences) are a great financial burden on academic libraries. Amidst this enormous profusion of academic publishing—and the stress that it places on everyone involved—it is inevitable that sub-par research gets through the peer-review process and into the pages of academic journals. Sometimes even fraud makes it through. Because of the requirement to publish, academics (even honest ones) sometimes publish work that they themselves question the significance of. (Of course, questioning the significance of one’s work is a condition endemic to graduate school.) A more serious problem is that good work can go unnoticed in the relentless flood of published research.



19 comments:

  1. and the bigger question is --- who will read them? only a small ... tiny ... community of scholars. try explaining your published works to friends and family (non-academics) ... and you will get nothing but baffled looks and nodding as they attempt to understand the complexity and relevance of your work to the contemporary world.

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    1. In my field? Neurologists, genetic councilors, pediatricians, Alzheimers patient medical professionals, psychologists and psychiatrists...

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    2. Tiny. Often on the order of two readers. Why should taxpayers fund this?

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    3. In a field like Camille' s things may be better. We're mostly talking humanities with numbers like two. Even if it's three or four, this is not contributing to the growth of knowledge. It is the merest self-indulgence.

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  2. Excellent point. Quality is definitely suffering in favor of quantity. More over, as the previous poster noted, the relevance of such work is highly questionable when only read by a handful of scholars with the same academic interest. What's the point of academic research if it lacks the power to influence and transform society?

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  3. Totally agree with this. The tragic part is that you, as a grad student, have to wade through a sespool of sub-par publications to even get a glimmer of insight into what you're researching.

    Even as an undergrad I was often shocked by the low quality of papers that managed to get published. It must also be disheartening to publish something you're not completely happy with just to put it on your resume -- so much for 'living a life of the mind.'

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  4. More like publish AND perish these days...

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  5. Yup, yup, and yup. What a waste of everyone's time it all is.

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  6. I don't know...I sort of enjoy reading articles, even if they are sub-par. It just gives an opportunity to criticize accomplished academics in my own writing.

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  7. I just discovered your blog and am enjoying reading over the 100 reasons (or 1-33 thus far). Too bad mostly grad students and Ph.D.s will be reading this!! We need to spread the word to the little people, the undergrads, asap!!

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  8. I would love to see "34. Most of Your Research and Published Work Will Be Completely Meaningless."

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  9. @ Anon. "I would love to see #34. Most of Your Research and Published Work Will Be Completely Meaningless."

    Actually, that should have been #1!

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  10. Because no industry has competition.

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  11. the amount of absolute garbage out there is sickening and I often feel embarrassed for many of the people around me publishing the most esoteric junk towards which they feel an immensely overblown sense of pride.

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    1. Often you will get published because you know someone, but not in very good journals. In one excellent journal, I had to revise my article twice before it was accepted. The reader was excellent.

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  12. Sadly, this is very true. However, for one to write well, he/she has to start somewhere. If you want to read high quality articles, then go and find a high quality journal to read from. And it is also true that very few people will get to read your paper, but the important point is that "some" people will. It takes a very long time for most research to bear fruit, but we can't deny the fact that it actually does eventually. Otherwise we wouldn't have all these fancy gadgets and stuff to use in our daily lives. Sorry, I come from an engineering background.

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    1. Most published work will Never bear fruit. Ever. It just sits, unread, on library shelves forever

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  13. Glad to have found this blog. I'm currently an undergraduate and thinking about my future career path. I may rethink some things after having read this. Thank you. :)

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  14. True story. I don't hate academia on principle but based on the actual way in which it operates these days (unlike corporate culture which I hate on principle because of its destructive consumerism and inhuman character). Indeed, academia is bit corporate these days. It emphasizes production (papers) over actually providing a service as needed. Corporations historically shifted the world's economies from needs based to desire based where desires aren't rational desires (and I don't mean utilitarian desires; the desire for beauty is rational because living in ugly houses and wearing ugly clothes isn't desirable). Instead, corporations cultivate a culture of mediocrity and lies that increases profit. It's quite hideous, really, to exploit people and dehumanize them in that way. The whole purpose of societies is to create and environment for the common good where common good is the benefit of each man such that it respects his freedom and dignity insofar as he doesn't damage anyone else's good. True, the common good is more a goal than a given, but it's the point. Academia, despite all its talk, is quite corporatist. The culture is very industrial. Indeed, corporations have very strong ties to universities (see mode 2 science). The university was meant to be a community of people with the goal of the common good of intellectual growth. No longer is this the case. The pettiness of academia makes me cringe half the time. If I could, I'd fire 3/4 of the graduate students and professors out there. Academia is no longer about the truth. It's a political-economic turd that attracts careerist charlatans. The pressure put on graduate students is like the pressure put on factory workers. And besides, the purpose of academia isn't to remain in academia above all. Classically, the man was the purpose. He could stay, but he needn't. Universities have become glorified trade schools run by corporate governments. The whole system is pathological and sick.

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