“AN average academic journal article is read in its entirety by about 10 people. To shape policy, professors should start penning commentaries in popular media.”
(Biswas and Kirchnerr, 2015)
The mantra of “publish or perish” is a survival issue to academics and scholars. Being published in scholarly journals is the primary performance indicator in the academe. This is used as bases for status, tenure and promotions. Today, the burden is made heavier by increasing competition among universities. The premium depends on where they are published (prestige), and how frequent they are cited (visibility).
To achieve prestige and visibility, academic scholars—who can be a faculty member or a doctoral student—must generate as many research articles in high-impact journals. A recent estimate counts about 1.5 million new articles generated annually.
Despite the number of articles produced, there is an alarming dearth of new ideas. As most are only miniscule and gap-filling increments to the existing body of knowledge, there is only renaming, rewriting, and regurgitation of the same old ideas and concepts.
On top of publication, one of the indicators of prestige in the academe is the frequency in which an article is cited. A journal with a high-impact index indicates a higher frequency of citations. Publication in these journals almost always assures the scholar of citations, and whether the article was read in its entirety is immaterial.
As a consequence, rather than being driven by what is interesting, curious, and challenging, most researches are “conducted” primarily for the purpose of publication. Scholars are therefore compelled to shape their research to comply with templates “suggested” by journal editors. With such a system easily resulting in narcissism and self-indulgence, the social purpose of research is lost. It becomes meaningless and irrelevant to others so that the question begs to be asked: How does society benefit from the resulting articles?
Ironically, most of the world’s cutting edge knowledge and influential ideas originated from research conducted in the academe. A feature article in The Strait Times lamented that most of these are not present in “today’s public debate or influencing policies.”
Research articles are mostly inaccessible to people outside of the academe. And even if these can be accessed, the jargon is incomprehensible for the untrained reader. Moreover, sheer volume and unnecessary length is daunting for practitioners to read and digest.
For research to be useful and relevant, it first needs to be read and understood. It should not remain an autoerotic exercise among academics and scholars. It should help enlighten a layperson’s (industry practitioners, policymakers, etc.) understanding of a particular issue, topic, or phenomenon.
Academic requirements compel scholars to run on vicious treadmills. Many of them may sincerely want to contribute to the understanding of their discipline and eventually, influence decision-making. However, the existing hegemony may be limiting this potential.
Besides publication and citations, perhaps a research’s impact in policy formulation and public debates should be included in the assessment of the scholar’s output. After a number of journal articles are published, similar works should not be eligible for additional academic merits, unless they reach a broader audience. Scholars can also be coaxed to write textbooks, opinion pieces, blogs, or other mass media outputs.
For example, in the National University of Singapore, faculty members are now encouraged to list op-ed column articles in their profiles.
I hope you are reading this.
Real Carpio So is a lecturer on Strategic and Human Resource Management at the De La Salle University’s Ramon del Rosario College of Business, Management and Organization Department. He is also an entrepreneur and management consultant. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and administrators.