April 22, 2024


Originally it was that of publish or perish, something like “publish or perish”. Although it sounds like an ultimatum, it was more a question of prestige than a real threat to academics, the group that is paid to think. Publishing the results of scientific research is both an obligation and a pleasure for the academic. In addition, those publications that reflect the advancement of knowledge can be considered a public good (and indeed often have, in whole or in part, taxpayer money as funding). Publishing, for academics, is like recording records for musicians: aspiration, obligation, and even a matter of professional identity.

With the growth of higher education systems, and with increased funding for scientific research on college campuses, came rankings. universities, research centers and individual researchers. The question was no longer simply to publish but to do so in the most prestigious journals, the indexed ones. The key to academic prestige ceased to be publication per se, and it became the exclusive property of the medium where it is published. International agencies, very similar in their modus operandi To those who rate the quality of the debt of States and companies, they became global judges of what counted as an “impact” publication and what remained in the category of academic by-product. Being or not being of said condition is decided by the independent evaluation by peers (the famous double-blind) and the unit of measure that separates the wheat from the chaff is the quote. It is a most democratic and transparent metric: citations received for each article you publish; that is, a variant of the likes of social networks elevated to raw material for the allocation of prestige (and then salary and budget to continue research) in the great temples of knowledge and in the global knowledge society.

As in so many other professions in which the public counts, even if it is very select, for the academics they began to count the audience data. They have to quote you, because it is the objective measure of your influence and, therefore, of the quality of your work. In addition, if possible, they have to cite you within two years after publication, because that is when those count the most. likes for your ranking as a researcher, for your university and for the journal in which you publish. The original adage has since been complicated to more or less the following: “Publish a lot, publish where it matters, get cited a lot and get cited in the journals that matter, or perish.”

Over time, and having allowed this whole set of new incentives to have its effects, both benign and perverse, we find that there is a global list of the most cited scientists (in general and in each field), and as one thing leads to the other, the heads of the emerging Saudi universities, among others, realized that they could speed their way to the top of the ranking of Shanghai by offering money to members of that elite list to declare in the header of their publications that they are part of the Saudi university in question. Since everyone has a price, several of the famous scientists on the list joined the Saudi academy and prepared to publish even more articles in prestigious journals, knowing that each additional article carried an added prize. We have learned that some of these brilliant stars from the academy live among us in Spain and come to produce a scientific article every three days. But the new system was not prepared for productivity increases of this size. The peer review process, the review of the original by the author to respond to peer reviewers’ criticisms, the second review, the editing and, finally, the publication of the papers can take many months, sometimes years. , in the highest quality magazines. A remedy was also found for this problem: create new magazines on-line where authors are charged for publishing with the guarantee that their article will appear in a matter of weeks; publish hundreds or thousands of articles in each issue of the magazine; With the money obtained, pay really good articles to recognized authors to accompany the rubbish, so that the journal maintains a high number of citations and continues to be indexed.

Business is perfect: everyone wins. Everyone? Not all. In the case of Spain, from the outset, the taxpayer loses. Because there are many public universities in which this donation The obligatory task that predatory journals have to do – as they have been called – comes from the budgets of the departments or from research projects, both financed with public funds. In other words, taxpayers pay the fees for crooked journals where opportunistic academics publish in what looks increasingly like a huge Ponzi scheme, a bubble that necessarily has to burst. And the entire national research system also loses because part of the already scarce available budget is wasted and, above all, because we are facing a kind of wild academic capitalism that is taking us in the wrong direction.

In the midst of a democratic recession, these Saudi tales have an enormous cost because they give wings to those who sell scientists and in general experts They are bought, they are not independent and therefore not reliable, and they are ultimately dispensable when it comes to having the results of their work to inform the political decisions that those who govern have to make. When it seems increasingly clear that only with more funds dedicated to research will it be possible to face the increasingly complex problems facing our world, we find that knowledge professionals, especially the youngest, are subject to dictatorship of rankings and predatory magazines in a sick institutional environment where the Rector has someone to write to him, but he is only worried about having someone to quote him.

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