There is now a race to publish more papers, faster. There are now people who will publish anything, and journals that oblige them. Does this accelerate scientific progress, or create chaos? (from Lila Nath Sharma)
Jeremy: I don’t really know, and I’m not sure how anyone could know with much confidence–it’s an unreplicated, uncontrolled experiment.
One possibility is that it doesn’t have much effect on scientific progress at all. We can now publish a lot more stuff, but the time people allocate to reading hasn’t gone up. So maybe all this stuff gets published and then mostly just sits there unread, having more or less the same effect on scientific progress as if it had never been published at all.
More broadly, many changes in the scientific publishing ecosystem are just different ways of doing the same things scientists have always wanted to do for centuries. It’s often hard to say if different ways of doing things are better vs. merely different. The answer probably varies from person to person.
Personally, I like having the option to just get some minor piece of work reviewed and published, on the off chance that I’ll need to cite it in future or that it might prove of interest to someone. But it’s not always or even usually worth the cost (monetary or otherwise) to publish everything I do. There’s just not enough payoff, to me or to science as a whole. So I publish at more or less the same rate that I would if Plos One, Ecology and Evolution, Ecosphere, etc. didn’t exist. Which is not that high a rate–2-4 papers/year for me. I’ve always aimed for quality over quantity (that’s the goal, anyway!).
Brian: Absolutely, firmly in the camp of being detrimental to science. The number of papers being published is growing exponentially! The number of universities, the number of undergraduate students, and hence the number of faculty is not growing anything like exponentially (if its growing at all – tenure track faculty positions are actually on the decline in many countries). This explosion is breaking peer review (more papers to review than reviewers). It is making it impossible to follow the literature. It is wasting a lot of time. And it is not advancing science. 50% of papers are never cited once. I have a few of these myself – its not shameful to be wrong occasionally about what is important and useful to other people. But 50%!? Do we really need all those papers? It seems to me certain that that time could have been better spent on teaching, on service, on building long term datasets, on risky research. And unlike many problems we like to blame on for-profit publishers, we have nobody to blame but ourselves on this one. I’m a pretty big fan of slowing down and focusing on fewer better papers.