A controversial article appeared in the Chronicle this week claiming that perhaps academics publish too much useless research and that the amount of publications required for job applications or promotion should be reduced in order to increase the quality of output. You can read the whole article here.
The authors of the article put this development down to the emergence of an increased number of researchers. Although they are primarily talking about scientific disciplines, anecdotally in my own field of the humanities, there have been concerns that universities are churning out more PhDs than will ever have academic jobs.
Much of the material published is ignored or goes to waste, they say. It is neither groundbreaking nor influential and merely contributes to the workload of everyone else because it has to be peer reviewed and then reviewed on its publication. This increases the demands on senior colleagues who spend all their time reviewing, while the bar is raised ever higher for junior scholars who have to ‘publish or perish’. It also leads to the impression that anything published more than a few years ago is out of date and irrelevant.
The authors suggest promotions and hiring committees should focus on the citation figures of an individual’s work, not merely the number of articles they have in publication. I think we would all agree that it is important to discriminate between the most and least prestigious publications. However, to me and many colleagues, going down the pure citations route seems dangerous and could undervalue extremely important pieces of research. It is always a dilemma when and where to publish in order to boost your reputation and job prospects, but this article challenging the notion that work must always be rushed into print has to be a good thing for our profession.