Peter Krautzberger on the web

11 dreams for the publishing debate -- #1 fewer papers

Many moons ago, Gowers’ “alternative” model for publishing started a new round in the publishing debate and ever since, drafts have piled up around here, some bad, some worse, some long, some short. It’s time for some summer cleaning (used to say “spring cleaning”, that’s how long it took me) so I tried to cut out the bits that seemed not so bad. Also, I haven’t posted anything in May – how could that happen? My favorite month, mpf.
Anyway, I hope you don’t mind that I stretch this out a little and release this piece in pieces, over the next few days. If you do, just come back in a week or so.

These are dreams. Some are realistic—perhaps just around the corner; others are way out there—basically crazy. Some will apply to everyone, others only to some. But all have diversity in mind, diversity in our expectations of who researchers are and what they do.

1. write fewer original-research papers

I know what you’re going to say. But hear me out. This is at the core: to enable researchers to publish fewer “new result”-papers.

I believe all major problems brought up in the debate are, at the heart, caused by the immense increase in publications – but not the global increase, the personal one. You have to publish far too much/big these days to get a half-decent position/grant. Increasing publication numbers did not increase the quality of research or, for that matter, the “quality of life” in our communities.

Instead, the massive inflation is killing us, devaluating everything we do as researchers. More papers mean that our papers are worth less. Having to publish more papers means we produce more research of questionable quality (unintentionally and otherwise). Especially young researchers have to publish for metrics instead of quality. Worst of all, evaluating researchers only by this steam-punkesque output means that the jobs go to people with this one singular skill – writing the right kind of papers to please the editorial boards of the right kind of journals – leading to an intellectual monoculture instead of diverse, stable, rich communities. In particular, the pressure works against women and minorities as they often start with and continue to face disadvantages in their careers that make it harder to produce the desired “output” in the desired time frame.

(If you’re wondering why I’m not bashing “evil publishers”. I don’t think they are the problem – we are. If you are happy with the inflation of papers-in-journals, then big publishers are what you need.)