Although my original intention was to start a discussion on the list,
something went wrong and everybody replied me privately. Most colleagues
agreed on the two papers per year. An edited summary here below gives some

Thanks a lot to all the colleagues who replied. I'll go back fighting the
with renewed energies.


************* ORIGINAL POSTING **********
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2000 02:57:04 +0100
WDYT how many papers should write a good scientist every year?

As common in many places, at my institution we are under pressure because
our productivity, in terms of number published papers per year, is
considered not sufficient. The quality issue has been addressed in our
scoring system, derived from the ISI disciplines groups and based on their
Impact Factor. But the quantity is currently debated.

I would appreciate if any colleague could pass me factual information on
the rate of publishing of average bioengineers, biologists, clinicians,
etc. in the world, in their country, in their department. Obviously I am
trying to demonstrate that it is not true that the rest of the world is
publishing twice than us. Any information on the scoring system (if any) in
use at your institution could be also of interest.

Additionally, and this is the reason of the WDYT label, I would like to
hear opinions on the more general question posed in the subject.

At least in biomechanics, in my humble opinion a scientist can publish in
average two papers per year of the best quality. Above two the quality is
progressively compromised in favour of the quantity. Do you agree with this

Similar questions can be posed with reference to the carrier. How many
papers should publish a master student? A PhD student? A three-years
post-doc? Etc.

And last, but not least, does it make sense to count papers or impact
factors? And before you simply answer no, what alternative scoring system
you have in mind?

thanks in advance for any reply.


********** EDITED REPLIES ***************
Most agreed on the two papers per year.

"I would agree that a good model for basic science researchers to follow is
a publication rate of about 2 per year." From: "Dr. J. H. Lawrence III"

"I absolutely agree with that statement {about the two papers per year}."
From: "Serge VAN SINT JAN"

"Two papers of high quality looks pretty good to me. In my department
(Mechanical Engineering), the average production is between 1.5 and 2
papers per year." From: Genevieve Dumas

"For me it is not possible to publish more than one serious paper per year.
Not only because of the work, but also for the serious and necessary debate
in the science community, which cannot be delegated to computers or some
one else." From: (H.F.Bär)

"Our faculty of medicine uses a fixed 'basic' level of production. It is
one paper in a journal with an impact factor of 1 per year per researcher.
The money that is given on the basis of productivity is calculated for the
points above the basic level. Most of our departments clearly get much more
than this basic level." From: Timo Jamsa

"In the UK we have a process called the Research Assessment Exercise. This
has taken place every 5 years for the last decade or so. It is a
government-controlled system that gives marks out of 5 for each university
department. 1 is low 5 is high. It requires 4 journal publications {over 5
years} for each academic member of staff before they can be included."
From: "John MIDDLETON"

"Several months ago I made a similar request about publication requirements
for tenure and promotion. I am sure the summary is in the BIOMCH archives"
{the summary focus more on the total number of papers one should have to
apply for tenure, raging from 2 to 8 papers} From: Jeff Ives

"When I started as a bioengineer researcher, I was told that 2 papers per
year was good. After 25+ years of doing research only, 2 papers per year in
peer reviewed journals, on average, is right. A researcher who has 100's of
publications must have 100's of students who are doing the publishing, and
the researcher can not do the work." From: "Torzilli, Peter A. Ph.D."

After some warm-up to establish the methods, also for PhD students two
papers per year seem a reasonable target.

" Š But once the results are there, I would say two a year." From: "Serge

"Scientists: 2 papers/year. Students and post-doc: 1 paper/year. Not
always this is actually achieved..." From: Alex Stacoff

Last but not least, most referred to the Impact Factor as an indicator,
eventually normalised over disciplines as proposed by ISI itself. The
felling however is that we use it only because we have nothing better. A
big problem remains the difference between disciplines, especially for
those who represent a "minority discipline" within his or her institution.

"So, now we try to use ratio: impact factor of published papers/highest
impact factor in the category." From: "Serge VAN SINT JAN"

"The impact factor is misleading. The German Society of Traumatology (Dt.
Gesellschaft für Unfallheilkunde) has focused on this topic some years ago.
As far I can remember, it was a certain Doctor Mennken from Hamburg or
Hannover who published it in "Unfallchirurg" or in the Society
proceedings." From: (H.F.Bär)

"In my situation {College of Agriculture}, the faculty responsible for my
evaluation come from such departments and have not worked with engineers at
a research level. Last year, I was turned down and the reason given was the
lack of publications. I do about 4 per year even with a 70% teaching load."
From: Tim Foutz

"You are true that calculating just the number of papers or impact factors
may lead to non-relevant comparisons between researchers / groups /
departments / institutes / countries etc. Just think about the differences
in publishing culture between engineering and medical science. Or
biomedical, biochemical and clinical. But I do not know a more objective
way to do it." From: Timo Jamsa

From: "Hylton Menz"

Dear Marco,
I have recently completed a survey of publication patterns and rates in
podiatry academic staff in Australia, which found a publication rate
(papers/year) ranging from 0-3.7, with an average of 0.7.
In doing this study I tracked down a number of papers regarding publication
productivity in various disciplines. Physical therapy, nursing and allied
health have similar rates (means ranging from 0.2 to 1.8), while medical
schools are significantly higher (1.5 to 3.9).

I've attached the references below. I hope this helps. My personal view is
that simply counting numbers of papers is a poor indicator of
"productivity" and sets a bad precedent, as there's then pressure to simply
pump out lots of papers which may result in a reduction in quality.
However, impact factor has it own substantial limitations as well.

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ONUOHA ARA: Demographic characteristics of educators in physical and
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WALKER JM, LEMASTERS M, EVANS PR: Canadian and United States physical
therapy educators: professional characteristics. Physio Canada 37:73, 1985.
HOLCOMB JD, SELKER LG, ROUSH RE: Scholarly productivity: a regional study
of physical therapy faculty in schools of allied health. Phys Ther 70:118,
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FLANIGAN KS, BALLINGER PW, GRANT HK, ET AL: Research productivity profile
of allied health faculty. J Allied Hlth 17:87, 1988.

Laboratorio di Tecnologia Medica tel. 39-051-6366865
Istituti Ortopedici Rizzoli fax. 39-051-6366863
via di barbiano 1/10, 40136 - Bologna, Italy

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