PA Editorial

PA EDitorial

Publish or Perish: Navigating the Academic Landscape

The phrase ‘publish or perish’ is a term used to capture the pressure faced by academics to either publish their research or instead risk professional stagnation.

There is much debate surrounding who first coined the term and when. Rawat and Meena [1] suggest that it was Coolidge in 1932 [2], while others have attributed the term to Atwood [3]. However, many at least agree that it can be found in Logan Wilson’s book ‘The Academic Man: A Study in the Sociology of a Profession’, published in 1942. [4]

Since these first beginnings, the ‘publish or perish’ mindset has become deeply entrenched within academia, with publication metrics playing a significant role in evaluating scholarly productivity – making the pressure to publish research crucial for career advancement and establishing one’s academic reputation.

The Significance of Publishing Research

Establishing Academic Reputation

Publishing research is vital for scholars to demonstrate expertise, contribute to knowledge, and establish academic reputation. Successful publications bring attention to scholars and institutions, leading to further recognition and collaborations. Institutions evaluate individuals based on the number and quality of publications for career positions, research grants, and promotions.

Promoting Knowledge and Advancing Research

The publication of research findings also allows scholars to share their discoveries, insights, and methodologies with their communities.

By disseminating knowledge, researchers contribute to the advancement of their field, encourage further exploration, and provide a foundation for future studies.

Securing Funding and Career Advancement

Moreover, publications are crucial for securing research funding and career advancement. Funding bodies often prioritise researchers with a strong publication record, as it demonstrates the ability to conduct significant research and attract attention to their work.

Publications also play a pivotal role in career evaluations, with academic institutions considering the quantity, impact, and relevance of an individual’s publications when deciding on tenure and promotion.

The Disadvantages of the Publish or Perish System

While the publish or perish system has its merits, it has also faced criticism. Critics argue that the emphasis on quantity over quality may hinder the development of innovative ideas, as researchers are driven to produce a high volume of publications.[5]

The pressure on academics to constantly publish research can often result in them neglecting other important responsibilities such as teaching and mentoring students. Additionally, the rapid rise of predacious journals in recent years has raised concerns about the questionable publishing practices that can emerge when the focus is entirely on quantity rather than quality.

Inhibiting Idea Development

One of the main criticisms of the publish or perish system is that it may hinder the development of ideas. The pressure to produce a high volume of publications within limited time frames can lead to rushed and incomplete research. As a result, researchers may feel compelled to prioritise quantity over the exploration of more complex and innovative ideas. This can potentially stifle intellectual creativity and originality.

Increasing Pressure and Stress

The publish or perish culture places significant pressure on academics, leading to heightened stress levels and potential burnout. The constant need to publish can create an atmosphere of competition and anxiety, where scholars may feel duty-bound to prioritise publication volume over the merit and significance of their research.

The pressure to meet publication targets can, therefore, adversely affect mental health and overall job satisfaction, as demonstrated by the 2020 Wellcome Trust Annual Report.[6]

Potential for Discrimination and Bias

According to some pieces of research,[7] the publish or perish system can also perpetuate biases and inequalities within academia. Studies have shown that women and underrepresented groups may face additional barriers when trying to publish their research. [8]

Article citations and publication rates show such gender disparities, highlighting many systemic challenges. Yet, diversity, equity, and inclusion in academic publishing are necessary in order to foster an inclusive research landscape.

The Advantages of the Publish or Perish System

Facilitating Communication and Collaboration

Publishing research enables scholars to communicate their findings to a wider audience and facilitates collaboration among researchers. By sharing their work, academics can contribute to ongoing conversations within their field, address gaps in knowledge, and build upon existing research. The exchange of ideas and the collaboration fostered through publications can lead to new insights, innovative approaches, and interdisciplinary collaborations.

In theory, one could argue that the more research is published, the more these gaps in knowledge can be addressed.

Building a Scholar’s Reputation

Publishing frequently in reputable journals establishes a scholar’s reputation beyond their field, opening doors for career opportunities, funding grants, speaking engagements, and collaborations with other experts.

This is especially so when research is published open access (OA). One study found that openly published articles in Nature Communications received almost twice as many unique Tweets and re-Tweets (on what is formerly known as Twitter, now known as X) as closed-access articles.[9]

A similar study for Nature Communications found that OA articles receive 2.5–4.4 times the number of page views and more social media attention via Twitter and Facebook than non-OA articles.[10]

Altmetrics and New Metrics of Impact

Traditional metrics, such as citation counts, have long been used to measure the impact of publications. However, alternative metrics (altmetrics) are gaining prominence, considering factors beyond citations, such as social media mentions, downloads, and online engagement. These new metrics provide a more comprehensive understanding of the societal impact and reach of research, reflecting the evolving landscape of academic publishing.

The publish or perish approach feeds into how these new metrics propagate research more widely.

Navigating the Publish or Perish Environment

Strategic Selection of Journals and Research Topics

Navigating the publish or perish environment requires strategic decision-making when selecting appropriate journals and research topics. Researchers should consider the aims and scope of a journal, its reputation, and the target audience to ensure that their work aligns with the journal’s focus. Additionally, choosing research topics that are innovative, timely, and relevant can enhance the chances of publication and impact.

Balancing Quantity and Quality of Publications

While the pressure to publish is undeniable, researchers must prioritise the quality and significance of their work. Rather than solely focusing on quantity, scholars should strive for publications that contribute meaningfully to their field. Collaborative research, interdisciplinary approaches, and rigorous methodologies can enhance the credibility and impact of their publications.

The task of balancing quantity and quality is crucial for long-term success.

Collaborative Research and Networking

Collaboration and networking are key to navigating the publish or perish environment. Collaborative research projects leverage diverse expertise, resources, and perspectives. Interdisciplinary collaborations lead to innovative research outcomes and broaden publication reach.

Networking with peers, attending conferences, and participating in academic communities all inform researchers, establish connections, and identify collaboration opportunities.

Ethical Considerations within Publish or Perish

Avoiding Plagiarism and Fraudulent Practices

Ethical conduct is paramount for all academics and researchers. We must, without question, adhere to strict guidelines regarding plagiarism, intellectual property rights, and attribution of sources. Plagiarism, data fabrication, and other fraudulent practices undermine the integrity of scholarly research and erode public trust.

Thorough citation practices, proper referencing, and adherence to ethical guidelines are essential to maintain research integrity.

Maintaining Research Integrity and Peer Review

The peer review process is our cornerstone of integrity, ensuring the quality and validity of research findings. Therefore, we must continue to engage in rigorous and transparent research methodologies, adhere to ethical standards, and provide accurate and comprehensive reporting of our work.

Undoubtedly, peer reviewers and editors play a crucial role in upholding research integrity by conducting thorough evaluations and providing constructive feedback to enhance the quality of publications.

Although faced with criticism, the publish or perish system still operates within these principled boundaries of peer review, promoting accuracy and accountability with its rigorous scrutiny.

Final thoughts …

The publish or perish system unquestionably has its negatives. It highlights the pressure many researchers and academics experience during their careers, which must be considered and addressed. It also underlines and potentially contributes to the gender-based variances and discrimination already present within published research – an ongoing systemic concern that still needs tackling.

Yet it is important to remember some of the positives of publish or perish.

Publishing research is crucial for academics to share their findings with a wider audience and collaborate with other researchers. It allows scholars to contribute to ongoing conversations within their field, fill gaps in knowledge, and build upon existing research. The exchange of ideas and collaboration can lead to new insights, innovative approaches, and interdisciplinary partnerships; ultimately pushing the boundaries of knowledge in their respective fields.

Moreover, while there is some concern about the quality of the volume of research it generates, the peer review process acts as the ‘old guard’ or the integrity sentinel – and has done so since at least 1665.

Those generating the research must also shoulder responsibility. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to make strategic decisions, maintain ethical conduct, and commit to the quality of their research. After all, no researcher wants to have their work discredited.

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[1] Rawat S, Meena S. Publish or perish: Where are we heading? J Res Med Sci. 2014 Feb;19(2):87-9. PMID: 24778659; PMCID: PMC3999612.

[2] Coolidge HJ, editor. United States: Books for Libraries; 1932. Archibald Cary Coolidge: Life and Letters; p. 308.

[3] Moosa, Imad A. (26 January 2018). Publish or Perish: Perceived Benefits versus Unintended Consequences. Edward Elgar Publishing.

[4] Eugene Garfield (June 1996). “What Is The Primordial Reference for the Phrase ‘Publish Or Perish’?” (PDF). The Scientist10 (12): 11.

[5] Rawat S, Meena S. Publish or perish: Where are we heading? J Res Med Sci. 2014 Feb;19(2):87-9. PMID: 24778659; PMCID: PMC3999612.

[6] Wellcome Trust Annual Report

[7] M. Helmer, M. Schottdorf, A. Neef, D. Battaglia, Research: Gender bias in scholarly peer review. eLife 6, e21718 (2017).

[8] Yasaman Sarabi, Matthew Smith, Gender diversity and publication activity—an analysis of STEM in the UK, Research Evaluation, Volume 32, Issue 2, April 2023, Pages 321–331,

[9] McKiernan EC, Bourne PE, Brown CT, Buck S, Kenall A, Lin J, McDougall D, Nosek BA, Ram K, Soderberg CK, Spies JR, Thaney K, Updegrove A, Woo KH, Yarkoni T. How open science helps researchers succeed. Elife. 2016 Jul 7;5:e16800. doi: 10.7554/eLife.16800. PMID: 27387362; PMCID: PMC4973366.

[10] Wang X, Liu C, Mao W, Fang Z. The open access advantage considering citation, article usage and social media attention. Scientometrics. 2015;103:555–564. doi: 10.1007/s11192-015-1547-0

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