Publish and perish

“How many points would Louis Pasteur, Henri Poincaré, Claude Shannon, Tim Berners-Lee and others nowadays earn within the new academic evaluation system?”

The latest issue of Computer Assisted Language Learning carries a thought-provoking editorial on the “publish or perish” syndrome. Jozef Colpaert, the editor, argues that the evaluation practices currently in place in the academe are ultimately self-defeating, resulting in what he terms “Publish and Perish” (emphasis mine).

Colpaert begins by outlining major changes that have transformed the academic landscape, including the impact of neo-liberal ideology on the evaluation of academic quality. Increasingly, universities are being held accountable for the amount of scholarly output, as measured in numbers of publications or citations. He argues that:

For some obscure reason, universities started to apply the same principle to their own academic staff. The fact that no decent substantiation nor explanation was ever given, nor that no one seems to feel the need to do so, is really a shame for institutions that call themselves universities. (p. 384; original emphasis)

One problem with such an evaluation system, or indeed any evaluation system, is that it will of necessity be incomplete, in that it overlooks factors which cannot be easily quantified. Because it overlooks qualities that we consider important for a well-rounded academic (e.g. the ability to engage non-academic audiences, collegiality), this system is also unfair. Colpaert  argues that it is also demotivating and counter-productive  because it has the potential to induce disinterest, apathy, possible misconduct and, ultimately, burnout. He also points out that the system is actually perverse: Most ground-breaking contributions to science have been the product of hard, dedicated labour spanning decades, which would most likely be penalised under the current evaluation system for lack of short-term visible output.

I very strongly recommend reading the editorial, which can be accessed here. The full citation, for those among you who find such things useful, is:

Colpaert, J. (2012) The “Publish and Perish” syndrome. Computer Assisted Language Learning 25(5), 383-391.

Image: © Anna Creech (eclecticlibrarian) | CC BY-NC-SA

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