Over the weekend, a number of my philosopher-friends shared the article, "Why Professors Are Writing Crap That Nobody Reads", on social media. The long and short of the article is that academic publishing has mostly turned into a scoring-system for tenure and promotion:
Professors usually spend about 3-6 months (sometimes longer) researching and writing a 25-page article to submit an article to an academic journal. And most experience a twinge of excitement when, months later, they open a letter informing them that their article has been accepted for publication, and will therefore be read by…Yes, you read that correctly. The numbers reported by recent studies are pretty bleak:
- 82 percent of articles published in the humanities are not even cited once.
- Of those articles that are cited, only 20 percent have actually been read.
- Half of academic papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, peer reviewers, and journal editors.
So what’s the reason for this madness? Why does the world continue to be subjected to just under 2 million academic journal articles each year?
Well, the main reason is money and job-security. The goal of all professors is to get tenure, and right now, tenure continues to be awarded tenure based in part on how many peer-reviewed publications they have. Tenure committees treat these publications as evidence that the professor is able to conduct mature research.
A lot of my philosopher friends commented that this is disturbing--but I'm not sure it has been adequately appreciated just why it should disturb us. The real problem isn't that it has turned academic publishing into a cynical and depressing mechanism for personal advancement. The problem is that it undermines the epistemic credentials of our discipline. Allow me to explain.