Publication or Innovation? Goal displacement and lessons from the publish-or-perish culture

Figure 1: The perceived high work pressure in Dutch economics departments for a number of academic positions, 2015-2016 Note: very high pressure is here defined as respondents reporting an 8 or higher on the 10-points scale of pressure in teaching, publication, acquiring funds, and administration. Source: Van Dalen (2021).

Drawing on a survey of academic economists in the Netherlands, Harry van Dalen¸ explores how publish or perish culture is perceived and enacted within academia. Arguing that the current arrangement of the academy along lines that promote outputs (publications) displaces both the goal of more intrinsically motivated forms of scientific innovation and those who pursue them, he argues for a form of academic management more focused on inputs and the promotion of academics with a ‘taste for ideas’, rather than publications.


Science has long been characterised as a winner-take-all profession, where attention and rewards are highly skewed. The early sociologists of science perceived non-market incentives to be dominant within these processes and the academic community. The race to solve the great puzzles of science and in so doing gain recognition by one’s peers was highly prized; money or employment was secondary, a nice spinoff. Some years back, I wrote about how this winner-take-all element affected academic demographers. However, even in the relatively short space of time since then, competition and the search for superstars has heightened in almost all fields of life. Science has been no exception, whilst at the time it already seemed the ‘old school’ non-market incentives were being crowded out by market incentives, metrics have only become more dominant, instrumental as they are to securing grants, lifetime income and employment. To act in accordance with the metrics has become a dominant strategy for academic scholars.

Read full article here: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/

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