Volume overpowers Quality

Arthur E. Sowers arthures at access.digex.net
Sat Jun 22 23:28:16 EST 1996

I agree with Rays comment below, completely. I've seen exactly the same
effect happening, tried the same arguments and it all falls on deaf ears.

There are a few people who understand originality and take the time to
read for substance and productivity and I would rather admire someone who
puts out two good papers per year than some big group that puts out one or
less good paper and seven or eight toilet papers (or "wipes" as they are
somtimes called) which are disconnected from each other and disconnected
from substantial linkage to existing literature. But, most of the time
when CVs are read the lines are counted rather than read. I had a chance
to see the CV of a program head who had about 140 papers in reviewed
journals. Guess what? About 40 of them were letters to the editor! The CV
author headed that section of his CV as "publications in a reviewed
journal". No lie, right?  A good fraction of the rest looked like little
technique modification reports (with multiple authors) published in little
obscure journals. And I noticed that the guy's compensation is in excess
of $210K/year (I looked it up). 

Its fairly sad that this is how the system works: reward quantity rather
than quality. Why might this be? How did it get started? I'd like to think
that as institutions began to see themselves in a sort of "institutional
cold war" with each other, and competing for higher positions on the
pecking order, administrators began serious bean counting. How many papers
does our institution publish? How many citations do they get? And, above
all, how much grant money do WE get (and, conversely, how much do our
competitor institutions get?)? And all of this is considered on a numbers
base rather than an understanding base. Institutional identities seem to
be in comparison with other institutions rather than what they themselves
are, what their characteristics are, and whether there are any distinct
traditions, etc.

Maybe we are all headed for bureaucratic melt-down. Even in the corporate
world they don't seem to be concerned about what they are doing or making;
rather, is it making money, and in particular is it making more this year
than last year. "Forget quality" and instead "lets get those crates
rolling down the conveyor belt." 

Good luck folks.

Art Sowers

On Fri, 21 Jun 1996, W. R. Gibbons wrote:

> There's a serious problem in this.  One thing the grantsmen have figured 
> out very, very well is that you must not only get the grant, but publish 
> papers.  Lots of papers.  The more papers the better, because if you 
> publish enough you will overwhelm the reviewers who have no time to read 
> all that you have written, to see if those papers are in fact any good.
> I've argued on a study section that an applicant whose work I knew all too
> well had contributed very little to his field.  Others pointed to an
> impressive stack of papers and manuscripts--100 papers over 5 years--and
> said, "Look! How can you say that?"  I explained I had read, reviewed, and
> managed the review of many of those papers, and they were not significant
> works.  The author wrote reams of uncritical rubbish, and just kept
> submitting each paper to lesser and lesser journals until one accepted it.
> I had seen some papers once as an editor, and two or three times as a
> potential reviewer.  The only response I could get was, "He is *very*
> productive; he deserves to be funded." 
> So to some extent the retrospective analysis operates now, but badly. 
> Output is weighed, or counted (and counted in a silly way in which each
> author of an 8-author paper is credited with a full publication).  Output
> is rarely critically assessed.  If the proposed system were inagurated, it
> would in my opinion exacerbate problems if it did not address the question
> of what it means to be productive. 
>    Ray Gibbons  Dept. of Molecular Physiology & Biophysics
>                 Univ. of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington, VT
>                 gibbons at northpole.med.uvm.edu  (802) 656-8910

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