by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
John Staddon offers Martin Center readers part two of his assessment of the perils of academic peer review.
[T]he emphasis in academia on publishing is misplaced. The number of publications, even publications in elite journals, is not a reliable proxy for scientific productivity. Great scientists rarely have long publication lists, and a paper in an “elite” journal isn’t necessarily a great paper. I will give just two examples. W. D. “Bill” Hamilton (1936-2000) was probably the most important evolutionary biologist since Charles Darwin. He published his first paper in 1963 and by 1983 had published a total of 22, a rate of just over one paper a year. Several of these papers were groundbreaking, his discovery of the importance of what evolutionists call inclusive fitness being perhaps the most important. … One paper a year would now be considered inadequate in most research institutions. …
… Do top journals such as Nature and Science really publish the best work? Are they a reliable guide to scientific quality? Or do they just favor fashion and a scientific establishment, as the two writers in this Times Higher Ed article claim? Nobel Prize winner Randy Shekman, in a Guardian article, along with the many authors whose work is described in a 2013 review article, co-authored by German researcher Björn Brembs, agree that fashion is a factor but point to more important problems.