Academics who publish frequently ‘have more highly cited articles’
relentless pressure for researchers to get their work into journals, or
face consequences for their careers, is one of the biggest concerns in
academia and has been blamed for robbing scholars of the time to
conceive profound, transformative ideas.
Last year, for example, the Wellcome Trust
announced that it would fund longer-term projects to offset this
pressure: the “model of chasing the next paper in the next journal” was
constricting scientists’ ability to “dream”, said Jeremy Farrar, the
based on a misconception of how academics come up with good ideas,
according to an expert on research productivity who has discovered that
more prolific academics often actually write more influential papers – a
finding that he believes has implications for how academics are
assessed and funded.
Ulf Sandström, a guest professor of science and technology studies at KTH Royal Institute of Technology
in Stockholm, looked at the publishing records of 48,000 researchers
based in Sweden and found that in most subjects, the proportion of
high-quality articles – as measured by citations – held steady or even
improved as they published more papers. Only in the humanities did it
He said that he “cannot understand” fears about a pressure to publish
in academia because there was “no evidence” that publishing more papers
leads to poorer quality research.
Instead, there is a virtuous circle between publishing papers and
their having an impact, he argued. “From creativity and psychology
analysis, we know that you can’t do the right thing first time. You need
to do a lot of trials to have something that is really interesting,” he
said. “The more you try, the more you know.”
The notion that researchers needed long periods of time to “sit and
think and think and think” without publishing anything in order to
conceive a groundbreaking idea was a false view of the scientific
process, Professor Sandström said. Researchers generally do lots of work
in one scientific paradigm before coming up with atypical ideas, he
Prolific researchers were also better known in their networks, and
more embedded and organised, meaning that peers were more likely to cite
them, he added.
Successful scientists also accrued more postdoctoral students, which
allowed them to conduct more research, he explained. But Professor
Sandström added that his analysis had ruled out the possibility that
prolific, highly cited authors were simply senior researchers leveraging
their power to add their names on to the work of others.
Professor Sandström’s co-authored paper, “Quantity and/or quality? The importance of publishing many papers”, published in Plos One,
argues that the results have implications for research policy –
specifically, assessment exercises that limit the number of papers an
academic can present.
The UK’s research excellence framework was one “very strange” example
of this, he said, because it caps the number of papers that researchers
can submit (four in 2014), meaning that researchers with many more
publications to their name were not rewarded.
“Productivity is a very important aspect of research,” he said.