publish or perish

Publish. Or Perish. Or falsify.

In his pamphlet Enemies of Promise (2004) Lindsay Waters blamed present-day “eclipse of scholarship” on the academic rat-race called “Publish or Perish” (POP) – the pressure to publish more and more articles in more and more prestigious journals. The book was largely dismissed as the archetypal humanist rant. Waters was just an old fart with too many books in his living room, quixotically attacking a well-established scientific mechanism for assessing scientific merits of scientists. Run by scientists.

Sorry, did I repeat that word too much?

Today, an interesting figure seems to support Waters’s argument: the “publish or perish” mecanism is accused of being the main reason why the number of scientific frauds has skyrocketed in the last 20 years. According to the Times Higher Education, since 1990, the number of articles published in journals has doubled. Concomitantly the number of fraudulent articles retracted by their authors has increased 20 times. Apparently researchers, pressured by academic institutions and funding bodies, increasingly publish results that are (at best) inaccurate and (at worst) counterfeit.

And if you don’t agree with these conclusions, here’s a scientific article which features those same results. Published in a scientific journal. By a scientist.

Fanelli, D. (2009) How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data. PLoS ONE, 4(5): e5738