How “Publish or Perish” Can Become “Publish and Perish” in the Age of Objective Assessment of Scientific Quality
The point I wish to make is not what we all know: that the methods to assess the quality of research achievement are controversial. I do not wish to call into question the raison d’être of scientometric approach, its methodology or its particular indicators either. Nor am I aiming at coming up with systematic solutions of the contradictions (although I hope to offer some thoughts in that direction later below). Many have called and keep calling attention to the rigid and uniform application of the numerical approach (counting publications), arguing that it is doing injustice to certain areas of science.1 With that as a starting point, this study is intended to serve two purposes. One, in a much sharper tone than generally used in discussions of the topic, I wish to call attention to how extremely harmful the present scientometric practice may be for many scholars and scientists. Two, also partly in support of the former argument, I propose to demonstrate—to the degree of breadth and depth that the size-constraints of this paper make possible—how the crucial contradiction in question at the core of the present practice follows from the myths generated by scientometry itself.
Here is the paradox: it is the mechanical application and overvaluation of the scientometric assessment of research performance, the very objectivity designed to guarantee equal and fair treatment that does, in fact, lead to the devaluation of quality research effort and discourages even kills the will to conduct research in several disciplines. That is to say, the partly true, part-fun proverbial “publish or perish” principle, which urges the research scientist or academic to keep publishing for the sake of career advancement and academic survival, turns into the trap of what we can describe as “publish and perish.” How a well-intentioned and basically most welcome development, scientometry, or rather, its method of application as well as the myths it generated yield the “publish and perish” phenomenon is the subject I will address below.
1 inanimate (physical) natural sciences and mathemathical sciences, animate (life) natural sciences, human- and social sciences