Growing number of scientific articles comes at the price of a deterioration in quality

Tomáš Václavík
Photo: Michael Beckmann
thursday 24. january 2019, 14:51 – Text: Šárka Chovancová

In the past few decades, the credibility of scientific research has been undermined by the rapidly growing number of articles published in scientific journals – only a fraction of which make a significant contribution to scientific knowledge. This finding has been brought to the attention by the authors of an international study entitled “The Art of Scientific Performance” published in the prestigious Trends in Ecology & Evolution journal. One of the authors is Tomáš Václavík of the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences at the UP Faculty of Science.

According to the study, one of the reasons for this plight in the area of publishing results of scientific work is the evaluation system of scientific performance determined by a rule: the more, the better. Academic employees and institutions are being compared according to the number of their publications, publication citations and the amount of monies received. The authors claim that the quality and societal contribution of science and research tend to be relegated to the background. As Václavík pointed out, “information technologies in concordance with the openness of scientific databases have led to the development of indicators such as ‘impact factor’, which is currently used for scientific performance measurements, in spite of their different original purpose.”

As stated by Václavík, “quantity obsession” in publishing the scientific findings inevitably leads to the selection of “bad science”, which is confirmed by a number of other studies. The authors of the study “The Art of Scientific Performance” warn that there are frequent cases of incorrect results published, as well as hoax articles. At the same time, there is a growing number of so-called predatory publishers who, in exchange for payment, offer easy publishing without quality assurance. “The number of scientific journals and published papers has been increasing exponentially since the beginning of the 20th century, while the number of papers read and cited is increasing linearly. The estimated number of all published scientific papers up to 2008 is over 50 million,” stated Václavík. He also claims that there is a growing number of scientific papers with irreproducible findings. “The Open Science Collaboration analysis from 2015 showed that only 36% of controlled experiments in psychology have been found reproducible or confirmed earlier findings,” he added.

According to the study, the academic world is in need of systemic change, one which would overcome the current obsession with quantity and strengthen the role of academia in society. The authors of the study have proposed several simple guidelines for decelerating and ultimately reversing this unfortunate trend in publishing findings of scientific work. “Modern science is capable of self-reflection; therefore, we believe that we are able to reconsider our understanding of scientific performance and go back to a greater emphasis on quality. Though quality may not be easy to define, its main features remain the same: human curiosity, an endeavour to explain the surrounding world, and societal relevance for problem solving,” concluded Václavík. The complete study is available here.

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