Wrinkled v. Round

Andrew Berry

  • A Monk and Two Peas: The Story of Gregor Mendel and the Discovery of Genetics by Robin Marantz Henig
    Weidenfeld, 288 pp, £14.99, June 2001, ISBN 0 297 64365 7

A report in Science magazine in 1990 exposed the absurdity of our publish-or-perish academic culture. It focused on citation rates – the frequency with which my article is referred to by my colleagues, or indeed by me – which serve as an index of the impact of a particular piece of research. Because of the plethora of obscure or regional journals in circulation, the study was confined to the top 5 per cent or so of scientific journals, some 4500 of them. It asked what proportion of all articles published in those journals between 1981 and 1985 were never cited, not even once, in the five years after publication. The answer was astonishing: 55 per cent had never been cited, not even by their own authors. And papers not cited within five years of their first appearance are unlikely to be cited subsequently. Over half the academic literature is still-born.

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