Friday, January 19, 2007


I got an email this morning with the draft of a conference-proceedings paper that I helped with. In academia, there's a saying: "Publish or Perish". The beurocrats, cronies (funding agencies), and even some faculty have this notion that the more publications you put out, the better you are, and the more money you deserve. While number does mean something, there are so many papers put out that don't really have any significant conclusions.

Why rush to publish a paper on one night of data when you could wait and add a few more and make you case a little stronger or perhaps draw more general conclusions? There's good reasons why.

One is that there are many people who are perfectly capable of doing exactly what you did, who can get telescope time, just like you did, who also want to do the project you're doing, who might scoop you (publish first and get the fame & glory). In a hyper-competitive field with half-way-to-autistic scientists all working 100 hours per week to try and beat each other to publishing first, you can't wait for an extra year to look at a star/galaxy again. Someone else will do it first. Or, even worse, if you tell somebody about what you're doing before you publish it, somebody will try to steal your idea and do it before you, to get the fame & glory.

Another is that there's a social stigma that happens when you don't publish your data. The older astronomers, who control who gets to use the telescopes, won't give you more time unless you publish your results. You can try to give them a good reason for waiting, but remember, if you get scooped then your university doesn't get the good PR and you will have "wasted" telescope time.

There's another thing to notice that goes in to publishing. There's 8 authors on this paper. The first author gets most of the credit, but this one goes on all our publication records. In my opinion, if somebody helped out with a paper, they should get to be a co-author. That way, you get rewarded for the work you do. Simple enough, right? I've heard plenty of stories, especially from grad students in any field, where their advisors (old faculty) will tell them that they aren't co-authors because they were simply hired to do the data analysis, and are not part of the science. Some have even gone so far as to have a grad-student write the proposal, go do the observing, process and analyze the data, and make all the figures for a paper, to then be scratched off the author list because the guy wanted all the fame & glory for himself.

I've never fully understood the concepts of prestige, fame, glory, or ego. It doesn't make sense to me that somebody would think it better to screw over the people that helped them do a project. You burn enough bridges in a very small, tight, anti-social community (like science) and I would think that soon you wouldn't have anyone willing to help you. Also, if everybody publishes with many co-authors, then everyones records are helped. But it also doesn't make sense that some of the worst offenders are the one's with the biggest grants and sallaries. It seems that your ability to package and sell yourself counts for much more than it should. But then again, the people giving out the money to the lowly public servants are also just people who also don't have the time to read anything and make their million-dollar decisions based on 30-second sound-bytes, and half-page proposals..........


Blogger Diane Harrington said...

Sounds pretty cutthroat all right. Are the scientists head banging and rocking yet

10:43 AM  
Blogger Jesse said...

It's just the typical cock measuring contest. Only these assholes are measuring their brains instead. How can you possibly measure something that complicated?

Also, I think the autistic idea is true and this competition is the scientist's way to deal w/ the disorder. Its sad really, that they can't enjoy people/life enough so they compensate w/ obsession.

7:31 AM  

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