Avalanche of Low-Quality Research?

Writing in the 13 June 2010 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Commentary section, Mark Bauerlein, Mohamed Gad-el-Hak, Wayne Grody, Bill McKelvey, and Stanley W. Trimble assert “We Must Stop the Avalance of Low-Quality Research.”

Noting that “the number of ‘refereed academic/scholarly’ publications grows at a rate of 3.26 percent per year (i.e., doubles about every 20 years),” which they attribute to an increasing number of researchers conducting research and requiring publication, they question whether this is a sign of health:

. . . instead of contributing to knowledge in various disciplines, the increasing number of low-cited publications only adds to the bulk of words and numbers to be reviewed. Even if read, many articles that are not cited by anyone would seem to contain little useful information. The avalanche of ignored research has a profoundly damaging effect on the enterprise as a whole. Not only does the uncited work itself require years of field and library or laboratory research. It also requires colleagues to read it and provide feedback, as well as reviewers to evaluate it formally for publication. Then, once it is published, it joins the multitudes of other, related publications that researchers must read and evaluate for relevance to their own work. Reviewer time and energy requirements multiply by the year. The impact strikes at the heart of academe.

As remedies they propose:

  • Limit the number of papers required for hiring or tenure and promotion.
  • Make more judicious use of impact factors.
  • Publish shorter articles in journals, with expanded versions available in open access on-line repositories.

The essay is on line to subscribers of the Chronicle.

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