The Open Scholarship Initiative
Working together in partnership with UNESCO to improve the future of open

The pressure to publish pushes down quality : Nature News & Comment

What if more is bad? In 1963, the physicist and historian of science Derek de Solla Price looked at growth trends in the research enterprise and saw the threat of“scientific doomsday”. The number of scientists and publications had been growing exponentially for 250 years, and Price realized that the trend was unsustainable. Within a couple of generations, he said, it would lead to a world in which “we should have two scientists for every man, woman, child, and dog in the population”. Price was also an elitist who believed that quality could not be maintained amid such growth. He showed that scientific eminence was concentrated in a very small percentage of researchers, and that the number of leading scientists would therefore grow much more slowly than the number of merely good ones, and that would yield “an even greater preponderance of manpower able to write scientific papers, but not able to write distinguished ones”.

The quality problem has reared its head in ways that Price could not have anticipated. Mainstream scientific leaders increasingly accept that large bodies of published research are unreliable. But what seems to have escaped general notice is a destructive feedback between the production of poor-quality science, the responsibility to cite previous work and the compulsion to publish.

More of this article: The pressure to publish pushes down quality : Nature News & Comment