Publish Or Perish Can Become Publish AND Perish | #ValueIsBetterThanQuantity

By: Richard Vedder

One of the most striking developments in collegiate life since World War II has been the increased emphasis in the academy on publishing and research. Teaching loads until recently were falling, and at the highest ranked schools the senior faculty often teach but one class a semester, with frequent leaves for major research projects.

One of the things quite striking to me is how incomprehensible the typical academic paper sounds today to more than 99% of the population compared with what was the case in say 1925 or 1950. In that earlier period, an educated lay person could, for example, understand the gist of most articles in the American Economic Review with little or no economics; that is not true today. Scholars strive to sound profound and think that using big words or flaunting their knowledge of esoteric technical procedures or statistical techniques makes them somehow better, more educated scholars. Even some professors of English literature, from whom we might expect lyrically beautiful and lucid discourse, often write using pseudo-sophisticated academic drivel incomprehensible to those outside today’s literary cognoscenti.

In the popular press, writers strive to be understood, quoted, and, above all, read by large numbers. In academia, almost the opposite is true. Academics rejoice in their obscurity amongst the broader public. There are exceptions to be sure. Far more people read and ponder my writings for Forbes or the Wall Street Journal than my serious articles in outlets like the Journal of Economic History or Public Choice. I constantly hear from readers “you are one of the few academic economists I can understand.”

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Isaac's Apple


The human brain is a splendor and a fabulous divine gift, but it must be guided by ethical values ​​so that the low attempts and mediocre incentives around money, power, status and other vices do not deviate it from its way. I am giving this example because 4 years ago I read a book on « social sciences as modern day witchcraft-sorcery » by Stanislav Andreski, where he observed a tendency towards complexity, empty jargon, etc … and I think that many disciplines in the academic world have been infiltrated by a dangerous productivist logic of capitalism instead of focusing on building a sound body of knowledge. So what we believe is a gain in ‘production’ is in reality a waste of resources, if what is produced has no real value and if no one can really understand the big picture of what is being produced. The quest for the holy grail of science to have a new scientific revolution will not succeed without a return of morality / ethics and the humility to recognize that the machine is in the wrong direction.
The concern is that knowledge can only claim to have a supreme value if it is detached from these material and often miserable worldly considerations! For example, the current disciplinary approach with the publish or perish culture is symptomatic of an academic world where no one is interested in what is really going on, or seeks to understand the meaning of what is produced and published. Today, the noble research has become a ‘tool’ for the bureaucratic ascent to the top of the academic ivory tower to collect more titles and benefits, but if you look closely, you can see that it is a tower of babel built on a quagmire and shifting sands, and this culture has so pervaded the system that no person / institution says they have the courage to seek to correct things! The universities that deserve to be on the world top rankings and be the authentic leaders are those who will have the courage and determination to start thinking how to change this system and tackle this deviation. These are the bright minds that will will be the legitimate academics and scholars of the next two decades (YB)

Science is one of the ways to reach the holy grail, it tracks down details, symbols and decodes signs (where minds challenge each other and create innovative explanations of the world) hoping with humility to reach the truth! If it decodes these signs to satisfy vanity indicators (publication metrics), then it brings us closer to falsehood than to the truth. Academia should be a safe space where money/power incentives doesn’t pollute it’s noble mission. YB

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