How to measure a scientist’s labor productivity? It depends on the measurement and evaluation system. Judging by the number of articles published by scientists, some figures are amazing. For example, the most prolific scientist in the world from 2016 to 2018 is Tasawar Hayat, a professor of mathematics at the Qa’id-i-Azam University of Pakistan, who has published 996 articles, that is, about one research work per day. In the UK, Gregory Leap, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Liverpool, co-authored 548 peer-reviewed papers over this three-year period, according to the Elsevier Scopus database [Frith, 2019].
Obviously, for such “hyperfertility” one can find an explanation in the specifics of the disciplines, experimental laboratory conditions, the existing authorship system, as well as teamwork. In some research institutes and centers, the management team is automatically among the authors of all publications, although sometimes the number of authors of one publication can reach 50-100 people. Nevertheless, many people have a question, how can they manage to accommodate the process of formulating an idea, conducting experiments or collecting data, analyzing and interpreting them, and also coordinating with all authors, especially if there are a lot of them, in a short time frame?
The motivation for such abundance is the current system of using the number of publications as an indicator of a scientist’s results, his / her effectiveness, in order to build a rating of both the personal and the institution in which the scientist works. In many countries, not only a personal career, a scientist’s salary, certain privileges, but also receiving research grants for a department or unit depends on this ranking. It is for this reason that China, for example, pays for its researchers’ publications, especially in influential journals, and this reward can be many times higher than the salary. In such a situation, publishing means becoming a wealthy scientist [Price, 2018]. For this reason, some scholars sacrifice their days off for the sake of creative work on the article [Ross, 2020].
It is generally accepted that along with the number of publications, the impact factor (IF) and the total number of citations of articles (H-in) published in journals are the most important parameters of a scientist’s scientific production value, although experts acknowledge that the H-index, first, gives an advantage to older articles and, secondly, is assigned to all authors, regardless of their contribution to the creative process. Unfortunately, this approach does not take into account other types of scientific activity, such as the number and quality of external grants, leadership in national or international scientific societies, work in the editorial boards of authoritative journals, participation in national review committees, number of trained PhD students, publication of scientific results in non-indexed journals, etc. But all these activities are also important, because they create the scientific credibility of the researcher [Zeremn, 2017].
Many scholars believe that in addition to the fact that the number of publications is an insufficient indicator of research effectiveness, the use of this criterion unwittingly encourages questionable publication practices, such strategies as “self-plagiarism” arise, that is, publishing their results with minor changes under different names, fragmenting experimental data in order to create the maximum possible number of publications, “thanks from the co-authors” response. Experts argue that it would be much fairer to shift the focus from quantity to quality [Wheeler, 1989].
What the “put on stream” publications may lead to is the situation with Francis Arnold, an American scientist and engineer at the California Institute of Technology, a 2018 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry who had to withdraw her last year’s article from the “Science” journal because she could not repeat the results obtained. She admitted and apologized that she had not double-checked and misinterpreted the results of one of her research because of her too much employment with other projects [Denis, 2020].
In Kazakhstan and Russia, the Ministries of Education and Science also rely on the quantitative characteristics of the publication activity of researchers in order to increase the international ranking of countries. Over the past 10 years, some success in the field of scientific publications has been achieved. However, Kazakhstani scientists acknowledge the presence of a large number of problems in the field of promoting the effectiveness of scientific research. To mention just a few: a high proportion of articles by Kazakh scientists and Ph.D. doctoral students in questionable journals; a small number of Kazakhstani journals indexed in the Scopus and Web of Science databases, as well as a low level of their citation; a small proportion of scholars publishing articles in powerful international journals; insufficient motivation of Kazakhstani researchers to publish articles in stronger journals [KazNU, 2019]
In Russia, a special methodology was developed for determining the number of publications of organizations depending on the amount of state financing, and also the number of hours that a scientist can spend on work ending in publication of an article was determined [Medvedev, 2019]. However, serious scientists are skeptical, they believe that if you fetish a figure, if it is more important than the content of the work, then you can achieve the goals, but the results are unlikely to please. The validity of this opinion is evidenced by the fact that the Commission for Countering the Falsification of Scientific Journals of the Russian Academy of Sciences applied to 541 editions of journals with proposals for the recall of 2528 articles. The grounds for this were signs of the presence of unfair borrowings in the articles, which can be regarded as plagiarism, of “unclear authorship”, i.e. partial intersection of authors in two articles with matching text, and self-duplicating publications [Postimees.2019].
Uta Frith, former president of the British Science Association, has made a radical proposal to tackle this problem: restricting researchers to just one scientific article per year [Grove, 2019]. Nevertheless, few people agreed with this proposal, it was especially criticized among young researchers who are at the beginning of their careers, and among scholars at scientific institutes for whom publications are the only product of their activity, unlike colleagues from universities.
Perhaps more practical is the New England Medical Journal’s suggestion that job seekers or funding candidates are invited to offer a limited number of their best publications to consider, say, three in one year or 10 out of the last five years. In any case, the formal approach harms science, especially when it is not controlled by scientists, but by officials. In addition, we need a more advanced assessment system, focused not on numbers, but on content that better recognizes and pays tribute to the real work that scientists do.
Denis. (2020). Winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry withdrew her article from a scientific journal because of irreparable results. Retrieved from: https://m.habr.com/ru/news/t/482962/ 06.01.2020.
Grove, Jack. (2019) Restrict researchers to one paper a year, says UCL professor. Retrieved from: https: //www.timeshighereducation.com/news/restrict-researchers-one-paper-ayear-says-ucl-professor. Accessed on 05.01.2020.
KazNU, 2019. Scientometrics and management of scientific-technological development of society. Retrieved from: https://www.kaznu.kz/RU/19337/news/one/16439/. Accessed on 10.01.2020.
Medvedev, Yuri. (2019). Academician in standard hours. Retrieved from: https://rg.ru/2019/04/21/pochemu-unikalnaia-sistema-ocenki-raboty-uchenyh-snizhaet-ee-kachestvo.html. Accessed on 04.01.2020.
Postimees.(2019). Russian science was shocked by a grand scandal. Retrieved from: https://rus.postimees.ee/6868246/rossiyskuyu-nauku-potryas-grandioznyy-skandal. Accessed on 10.01.2020.
Price, Michael. (2018). Some scientists publish more than 70 papers a year. Here’s how—and why—they do it. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/09/some-scientists-publish-more-70-papers-year-here-s-how-and-why-they-do-it. Accessed on 05.01.2020
Ross, John. (2020). Work after hours? It’s academic. Retrieved from: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/working-after-hours-its-academic. Accessed on 05.01.2020.
Wheeler, Ag. (1989). The Pressure To Publish Promotes Disreputable Science. Retrieved from: https://www.the-scientist.com/opinion-old/the-pressure-to-publish-promotes-disreputable-science-61944. Accessed on 05.01.2020.
Zeremn, Enver. (2017). The ranking of scientists based on scientific publications assessment. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320388339_The_ranking_of_scientists_based_on_scientific_publications_assessment. Accessed on 05.01.2020.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Nadirova Gulnar Ermuratovna graduated from the Oriental Faculty of Leningrad State University, in 1990 she defended her thesis on the Algerian literature at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, in 2006 doctoral thesis - on modern Tunisian literature at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, Professor.