News Peer review

Computer science: “Write-only articles”

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tower-of-mostly-babbleNot an improvement, apparently, on read-only memory. From Bio-Complexity’s editor-in-chief Robert Marks II, some more thoughts on peer review:

Authors are often asked to write short autobiographies in the third person at the end of their papers. In these biographies we often read self-congratulatory phrases like “Dr. Pythagoras is the author of over 500 journal and conference papers.” This is like saying “Dr. Pythagoras pounded 500 nails into various types of lumber.” The pounding of the nails is unimportant. It’s what you’ve built that counts.

I once found myself in a discussion about publication count with a newly minted acquaintance at a neural network conference in Japan. He asked me how many publications I had. I told him. He looked at me with near disgust.

“Geesh,” he muttered. “That’s nothing!”

He then told me how many publications he had. It was a lot more than me. This was 20 years ago. I have lost track of my friend, the publishing machine. I can tell you, though, that none of his papers has made any impact in the field of neural networks. Such worthless papers are called “write-only articles,” which is funny if you know what ROM stands for. I’m unsure whether my friend continues to publish today. Chances are his well-endowed paper count caused him to be promoted to an administrative position where he now evaluates faculty by counting beans. Final faculty promotion and tenure decisions are more often than not made by those who lean heavily on bean tallies. “The Dean can’t read, but the Dean can count.” More.

Dr. Robert Marks Series.

See also: Will journals accept papers written by a computer? Marks points out that it has happened a fair bit, and not because computers are smarter now.

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