Sunday 13 January 2019

How modern publication systems exclude the highest quality work

The complex trade-off between quantity and quality is described for the example of fantasy fiction - past and present - but the principle is applicable across the board.


dearieme said...

The most surprising and ingenious oddity I ever submitted for publication was a lovely piece of theory by one of my research students - he had been so keen to pursue the line of work that I'd used a slush fund to support him while he wrote this perhaps needless extra chapter for his PhD dissertation.

It was turned down on doctrinal grounds: "we no longer publish this sort of work". That was a wonderfully obtuse response - it's unlikely that anything resembling it had ever been submitted to that journal or any other. The topic wasn't obviously important but it was fascinating. So it slumbers quietly in a university library, unexposed to the world.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - The journal I used to edit (Medical Hypotheses) was intended for such work in the biomedical field - but it was not successful at the more important job of getting such work 'taken seriously'.

It has probably always been hard to get scientific ideas discussed properly (outside of theoretical physics, anyway) since research became professional, because the 'currency' of research is empirical. I can recall trying to discuss such matters over the coffee table with colleagues - but they simply would not (one chap stood up and walked out, commenting that he had *real* science to do!). This distortion has become ridiculous since research funding became the main metric of success.

Yet my view was that most of the problems in the fields I worked in were due to wrong ideas - such that nearly all the empirical work was so minsguided as to be without validity.

Maybe the clearest example was 'functional brain imaging' - which has generated tens of thousands of papers (and thousands of professorships!) over several decades; yet it is now acknowledged that the results are almost entirely without validity. This was known, on theoretical grounds, from an early stage

but such critique was unpublishable when it might have done some good; and anyway nobody with power and influence wanted to acknowledge or discuss the problems so long as the funding pipeline was gushing.