The article discusses the “publish or perish” mentality of academic research and notes that scientists are still heavily judged on the length of their publications list. Where Darwin sat on his theory of natural selection for 20-some-odd years, the modern lab insists on regular publications from its grad students and post-docs. Indeed, it’s common to “flush out” a study into multiple smaller papers so as to increase the total count.
And for what purpose? The article reminded me of a similar commentary I read in May’s issue of Lab Animal, where a grad student had the “audacity” to question the relevance of (yet another) study using 200 animals to examine the effects of cigarette smoke. The grad student had the wisdom to ask, “What is the point of doing yet another study on the negative effects of cigarettes? Is it really worth using 200 animals to put another nail in the coffin?” Of course, the commentators routed the British student, suggesting, among other things, that he did not yet understand the American system. Ouch.
Similar, I’d ask more generally – what is the point of any research? Is it actually novel or interesting? The majority of grant money comes from tax dollars, after all. As a taxpayer, am I happy that my money is going to fund this research? Can I be confident that this research will yield noteworthy results or will minor efforts be fluffed up and published to bolster someone’s career?
As the original poster noted, we need better ways of evaluating our scientists and our scientific institutions. That can’t happen until researchers, universities and journals want to work together to produce better science. Until then, as readers, we need to be wary and always ask for quality over quantity.