May 28, 2010

From Alec Melvin:

Re: Pressure to publish may bias scientists (April 24): Is this new study news? Does it come as a surprise to anyone that career progression in universities depends on the number of papers published? One can quote examples going back to the 1960’s - and these are not exceptions. In that decade a chemistry researcher in the UK decided that he wanted to be a professor. His battle plan was to recruit a number of lieutenants, each of whom had 3-4 research students. He put his name on every paper his battalion produced and in no time had 200 papers. His professorship followed automatically. Another UK chemistry researcher in the same period decided that, if he was to become a professor, he would have to publish a paper every three days. His chosen topic allowed him to do this and in no time he had amassed 500 papers. He was still going strong in the 1980’s. How many papers did Einstein produce in the period 1905-1921 (when he received the Nobel prize)? Surely the criterion for scientific career progression should be the significance of the papers produced, not their number? But are university administrators capable of recognising significance?


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