Publish and Perish

“How many points would Louis Pasteur, Henri Poincaré, Claude Shannon, Tim Berners-Lee and others nowadays earn within the new academic evaluation system?”

The latest issue of Computer Assisted Language Learning carries a thought-provoking editorial on the “publish or perish” syndrome. Jozef Colpaert, the editor, argues that the evaluation practices currently in place in the academe are ultimately self-defeating, resulting in what he terms “Publish and Perish” (emphasis mine).

Colpaert begins by outlining major changes that have transformed the academic landscape, including the impact of neo-liberal ideology on the evaluation of academic quality. Increasingly, universities are being held accountable for the amount of scholarly output, as measured in numbers of publications or citations. He argues that:

For some obscure reason, universities started to apply the same principle to their own academic staff. The fact that no decent substantiation nor explanation was ever given, nor that no one seems to feel the need to do so, is really a shame for institutions that call themselves universities. (p. 384; original emphasis)

One problem with such an evaluation system, or indeed any evaluation system, is that it will of necessity be incomplete, in that it overlooks factors which cannot be easily quantified. Because it overlooks qualities that we consider important for a well-rounded academic (e.g. the ability to engage non-academic audiences, collegiality), this system is also unfair. Colpaert  argues that it is also demotivating and counter-productive  because it has the potential to induce disinterest, apathy, possible misconduct and, ultimately, burnout. He also points out that the system is actually perverse: Most ground-breaking contributions to science have been the product of hard dedicated labour spanning decades, which would most likely be penalised under the current evaluation system for lack of short-term visible output.

I very strongly recommend reading the editorial, which can be accessed here. The full citation, for those among you who find such things useful, is:

Jozef Colpaert (2012): The “Publish and Perish” syndrome, Computer Assisted Language Learning, 25:5, 383-391.

(originally published here)


  • Thanks for the thought-provoking article Achilleas. I finally found some time to read it today. I met Jozef at several EUROCALL events and have recently advertised his Summer School on Research Methods LINGUAPOLIS on this blog. His article raises several important points but what I found especially interesting is his concern for emerging researchers which became evident in his final sentence in which he confirmed support for “as many (young) researchers as possible worldwide in their endeavor to realize themselves in a rewarding and enjoyable way” (p. 391). Not many editors think that way these days!

    I was also intrigued by his ‘‘Design your life’’,‘‘Design your research’’, ‘‘Design your strategy’’ and ‘‘Design your publication’’ (p.390) approach to publishing, for in the end we are really ‘ whole’ people and acknowledging this is important for any successful planning.

  • In the author’s defence, he does discuss the implications for prospective authors and editors towards the end of the editorial.

  • Richard Fay

    As things ‘hot up’ for the REF in the UK, this piece certainly resonates with much disgruntlement I hear from colleagues. It’s easy to be disgruntled though, much harder to decide the implications for oneself or to look ahead to a posst-REF shakedown in an already fragile (in this age of austerity) HE environment here (in the UK). Watch this space ….