The perverse incentives for academics to maximize publication and citation counts, as opposed to maximizing the quality and impact of the underlying research, are well-known. Stan Trimble’s recent letter to Nature suggests a partial solution: academic institutions should limit the number of publications that are part of a tenure or promotion case. This is simple enough that it might actually work. I’d suggest a three-publication limit for faculty applications, five for tenure, and perhaps seven for full professor cases. A bit of gaming would be required to navigate certain situations:
- Do I list a mediocre paper that appeared at a top conference, or a stronger one from a minor venue?
- Do I list a major paper where I played a minor role, as opposed to a less impressive single-author paper?
- If I’m switching areas, do I focus on the previous area (which is what my letter writers are likely to discuss) or the new one?
There’s plenty of gamesmanship in the process already, so these shouldn’t be a big deal.
A more extreme version (attributed to Matthias Felleisen, though I don’t know if he originated it) is: faculty are hired as full professors. Upon publishing their first paper, they are demoted to associate professor, then assistant professor, and then after the third publication they are required to leave academia.
The idea behind these various proposals, of course, is to cause people to view publication as a precious resource, rather than as a metric to be maximized. There would be pushback from researchers who act as paper machines, but I’d expect it could be overcome.