“Publish or perish” is the familiar exhortation to academics seeking tenure, but maybe “publish rubbish or perish” is more apt. A good number of the articles published in humanities journals are more like vanity projects than substantive contributions to a discipline. According to a recent article in The Economist, rubbish now is piling up in scientific research as well:
Too many of the findings that fill the academic ether are the result of shoddy experiments or poor analysis (see article). A rule of thumb among biotechnology venture-capitalists is that half of published research cannot be replicated. Even that may be optimistic. Last year researchers at one biotech firm, Amgen, found they could reproduce just six of 53 “landmark” studies in cancer research. Earlier, a group at Bayer, a drug company, managed to repeat just a quarter of 67 similarly important papers. A leading computer scientist frets that three-quarters of papers in his subfield are bunk. In 2000-10 roughly 80,000 patients took part in clinical trials based on research that was later retracted because of mistakes or improprieties….Science still commands enormous—if sometimes bemused—respect. But its privileged status is founded on the capacity to be right most of the time and to correct its mistakes when it gets things wrong. And it is not as if the universe is short of genuine mysteries to keep generations of scientists hard at work. The false trails laid down by shoddy research are an unforgivable barrier to understanding.
This trend of publishing for publishing’s sake is deeply disconcerting. Scientific progress depends on researchers questioning results and debating the less flashy issues, irrespective of whether their endeavors are likely to land them a spot in some journal. Read the whole thing.[Library books photo courtesy of Shutterstock]