- Publish or Perish: Perceived Benefits versus Unintended Consequences by Imad A. Moosa
Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2018. Pp. xi, 218. Cloth: isbn-13 978-1-78643-492-0, us$120.00, uk£75.00; Paper: isbn-13 978-1-78897-587-2, us$29.95, uk£19.95; eBook: isbn-13 978-1-78643-493-7, us$29.95, uk£19.95.
In our neoliberal era of research assessments, where institutional funding is commonly pegged to rankings and higher education is considered a cost instead of an investment, we know that scholars must publish in order to be able to persist within academe. Yet, as part of the academic lexicon for at least eighty years, the binary phrase publish or perish today sounds quaint, almost old-fashioned.1 Even for those who can achieve it, publication alone is not enough. After all, who affiliated with the academy doesn't know someone who has published and perished?2 Why would anyone, anywhere, voluntarily enter this cutthroat arena?
Imad Moosa, professor of finance at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, assesses the ramifications of today's high-stakes academic climate in Publish or Perish: Perceived Benefits versus Unintended Consequences. If the subtitle were a boxing match, you'd be wise to place your bets on 'Unintended Consequences.' Indeed, 'Perceived Benefits' perishes so swiftly and efficiently in Moosa's narration of the fight that a more fitting title might have been 'Why Publish or Perish Is Bad for Almost Everyone.' I know of no other work on the subject that collates and curates such a vast armamentarium of depressing, condemning data.3 Yes, to read this book is to be presented with example after astonishing example of situations that make the reader question, ultimately, how knowledge—which is, after all, what is at stake—manages to advance in the current academic environment.
Across ten chapters, averaging eighteen pages, Moosa lays out his compelling evidence. His conclusion emerges in the opening paragraph of the brief preface: 'the perceived advantages of POP [publish or perish] [End Page 143] pale into insignificance compared to the adverse consequences of guiding academia by the rules of this doctrine' (vii). In the first chapter, Moosa quickly dispatches the perceived benefits: increasing motivation, ensuring accountability, improving teaching, determining merit, advancing society. Every promise contains a threat; and, for Moosa, the detriments outweigh any possible benefits. Teaching and advising suffer, because writing for publication is an opportunity cost: 'the last thing a professor wants is a student knocking on her door to ask a question' (8–9). Peer review suffers, because refereeing a paper also carries an opportunity cost. Issues of local interest suffer, because international journals carry more clout. Authors less articulate in English suffer, because English-language journals afford the most prestige. And the list of miseries continues. Ultimately, Moosa argues, useful, difference-making research itself suffers: 'Under POP, the objectives change from advancing society to advancing (or preserving) oneself by building an "impressive" CV' (8). Moosa finds this myopic view to be nothing short of selfish, later stating twice that 'to have 200 papers on your CV is valued more than saving 200 lives' (35, 175).
Moosa's next three chapters dive further into connections between POP and the troubling state of affairs regarding research quality, journal practices and patterns of authorship, and research misconduct. Moosa blames pressures to publish for diluting the possibilities for path-breaking research, since professors minimize personal risk (to their careers) by avoiding research that might not quickly bear fruit. (Gone, alas, are the halcyon days of Bell Labs, where projects could continue for years before being evaluated.) He calls out predatory publishing4 and other extortionary practices 'used by journals to extract money from desperate academics seeking publication' (37–38): submission fees, handling fees, and publication fees—fees that can approach three times the average monthly salary for academics in developing countries. He inquires as to the limit of 'fractional' authorship, noting a 2009 Nature article with 2900 authors and questioning, later, whether '0.000345 of a paper in Nature [is] better than...