Academia is a tough career choice. The pay is low (especially for graduate students), the hours are long, and the job market is uncertain. Those entering the field often receive this simple advice — “publish or perish.” Publications are the central method by which people are evaluated in academia. One either continually publishes papers, ideally before other researchers working on similar topics, or watches as their career tanks. They may miss out on a job, fail to secure resources for their research, or get passed over for tenure. In fact, a host of tools and metrics which let scholars evaluate their publishing success has developed alongside this pressure to publish in prestigious journals. These tools can track the simple number of publications, to the citation count of a paper (how many other papers cite it), to the journal impact factor, even to the convoluted h-index metric.
The arcane details of all these metrics are of little interest to anyone not seeking a career as a scientist or other academic, but what should matter to everyone is how the incentive to publish no matter what can lead to bad science. (more…)