Rotten eggs in the store

Photograph of boiled egg for decorative purposesDo you feel like a battery hen? I ask the question because I know many of the readers of this blog are academics and in her 1995 introduction to the revised edition of her book ‘Beast and Man‘, the philosopher Mary Midgley describes the current approach to the writing and publication of academic papers as a battery-egg system in which the number of publications produced by an academic are simply counted when assessing promotion cases and grant proposals. She suggests that ‘this arrangement encourages industrious mediocrity’ such that even gifted and original researchers are forced to choose small topics for research in order to maintain their publication rate [see ‘Reasons for publishing scientific papers‘ on April 21st, 2021]. Reputable journals are supposed to be the guardians of quality through their peer-review systems; however, it matters little because the volume of papers published is so huge (more than 2 million per year) that most will never be read – no one has the time [see ‘We are drowning information while starving for wisdom‘ on January 20th, 2021]. So, Midgley predicts that journals will become ‘merely reputable cold-stores for eggs that everybody knows will never be eaten’. Unfortunately, many of the eggs are rotten because peer review systems are being undermined by disreputable authors, reviewers and editors operating ‘peer-review rings’ which have led to the retraction of hundreds of paper by publishers, including 511 papers by Hindawi & Wiley in August 2022 and 463 papers by IOP publishing in September 2022. So, if you do find time to read some journal papers, be careful what you believe because the work might be fraudulent.

Mary Midgley, Beast and Man – the roots of human nature. Abingdon, Oxon. Routledge Classics, 2002.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Soft-boiled-egg.jpg

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