Publish or Perish – February 12, 2020
In the academic world, there is a “publish or perish” culture. Peer-reviewed publications remain a key metric of success. As more PhDs are granted and the availability of permanent (tenured) full-time academic jobs diminishes, the academic arena becomes more competitive and, in some cases, more toxic. On the positive side, this kind of culture can promote the production of more science. On the negative side, it can promote a “good enough” standard and unhealthy competition – the kind where scientists become less open about their work, so as to not get “scooped” on publications and funding. Scientists may ask themselves, “What are the minimal requirements that have to be met for publishing?” Or, “Why should I bother with that (research) if I’m not going to get a paper out of it?” This does a great disservice to science. Sometimes, research – good quality research – can take years of observation and experimentation. But if you don’t publish often, you could be out of a job.
Beyond this “publish or perish” culture is another worry: the cost of publication. While I was in graduate school, I had grants that covered publication costs, so I didn’t worry much about it – or give it another thought. But as a more “free-lance” scientist these days, in order to publish some of my work, the starting cost is at least a few hundred dollars (and upwards of $2000 in some cases). Imagine – my work is funded, either by grants or the public – and not only do I have to pay to publish (with no royalties when published), then the public also has to pay if they want access to the results. Thankfully, there are more and more “open-access” journals out there, allowing free public access to articles. However, that comes at an even greater financial cost to the researcher. This system is broken – in many ways. If the public is to trust science and scientists, we need to be more transparent. We need to value the contributions of scientists from beyond academic walls and make it possible for them to be able to afford to publish their research for the world to read. Publications should be accessible to everyone – only then will we have a more scientifically literate public that is so desperately needed today.