Here are some interesting numbers.
Citation counts are our primary measure of a paper’s scholarly impact, and yet citation counts on average are distressingly low. By one count, 12 percent of medicine articles were never cited, nor were 27 percent of natural science papers, 32 percent in the social sciences and 82 percent in the humanities. Another study found that 59 percent of articles in the top science and social-science journals were not cited in the period from 2002 to 2006.
The author’s take on that is to move from functions of citation counts that quantify the unquantifiable to some other, as-yet-undiscovered system of quantifying the unquantifiable. (Impact, incidentally, is what happens when a paper is dropped to the ground.)
But skip that. Notice 82% “humanities” articles are never cited. This is worse than it sounds. Maybe you didn’t know it, but academics cite themselves, if nobody else, and often. Patting oneself on one’s back, and the boost this gives to one’s ego is a prime reason academics are hypersensitive to criticism. So the high number of uncited papers must mean we not only have papers nobody cares to notice, but that we also have a flood of newbie papers.
These numbers are not surprising given that, as everybody knows and everybody dislikes but that nobody will do anything about, paper quantity counts more than quality. (What counts most is dollars-with-overhead brought in. A prof who can really rake it in, with juicy 50%-plus overheads, need publish nothing, as far as individual institutions go.)
There are rare exceptions. Some work really is “novel”, the latest academic buzzword, a word seemingly de rigueur in fields like education. Which reminds: Did you read the excerpt from the tweet atop this post? The world would be better were this kind of nonsense never published. Professionalizinig methods!
— New Real Peer Review (@RealPeerReview) May 28, 2017
Anyway, an author with a paper count of one but with a genuine discovery will be as or more successful than a mediocre professor with dozens of works.
But it’s weight over wisdom most times. Even I fall into this, and have found myself listing numbers of papers as an accomplishment. Awful habit.
Solution? There is none. You might have thought, “Just don’t read the papers” would work. That’s already happening, as the lack of citations proves. Even unread, the papers are still there. They build and push inland like a tsunami. Nobody could read them.
The loneliness this induces is what causes some academics to sweeten titles and results, particularly in those fields directly touching on mankind. “Maybe the press will notice our new paper ‘Going For Walks Deadlier Than Cancer’.” Well, the press does, and then we do. Regular readers have seen dozens upon dozens upon dozens of these creations dissected, the fault always being obvious.
You might propose as a solution, “Stop requiring academics to publish.” To which I reply, you must not be an academic. This will not happen. Once the bureaucracy—administrators and the horde of deanlettes inside schools and the apparatchiks in government—get hold of a “metric”, there is no shaking them loose of it. Paper count (or functions of same) will always be important.
So, fine, there is one solution. But you won’t like it. Ready?
Tear down maybe sixty to seventy percent of colleges and universities. Stop requiring people to go to college. Stop telling folks a college education is a “must have”. Fewer colleges means fewer professors, and fewer professors means fewer papers, and fewer papers in the milieu of fewer and better colleges means a greater proportion of wheat over chaff.
That’s not going to happen, either. As we talked about, it can’t be long until government, as it has with primary then secondary, will soon (this is my bet) mandate tertiary education. You can never have enough lessons that racism is bad.
“But Briggs, isn’t tertiary education necessary because so much time was spent in the younger years imbibing official ideology that there was no time to learn to read, write, and cipher?”
True. This is, after all, why most colleges have “pre calculus”, remedial English (or whatever they call it), How To Spell Your Name, and so forth. Far too many matriculating kiddies can’t read, can’t write, can’t add two numbers without the aide of a “device.” Yet they will in four short years be awarded a “degree”.
This leads to speculation. Given the government sees its duty to grow, and will therefore (we accept arguendo) tertiary education will be mandated, it follows the Masters and PhD will also be devalued (for the obvious reasons). I ask readers: Will this lead to a “degree” greater than the PhD, one which recognizes actual merit?, or will the system collapse entirely?
Bonus! This article related. A Plan to Kill High School Transcripts… and Transform College Admissions