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SUMMARY: how many papers should write a good scientist every year?

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  • SUMMARY: how many papers should write a good scientist every year?

    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

    ***** LAST THE MOST DETAILED REPLY **********
    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.

    PEARSE WH, PEEPLES EH, FLORA RE: Medical school productivity. J Med Educat
    51:201, 1976.
    KRUMLAND RE, WILL EE, GORRY GA: Scientific publications of a medical school
    faculty. J Med Educat 54:876, 1979.
    GJERDE C, CLEMENTS W, CLEMENTS B: Publication characteristics of family
    practice faculty nominated for academic promotion. J Fam Pract 15:663,
    MANU P, LANDAU SA, WILLIAMS WJ: Analysis of publication output of internal
    medicine faculty. J Med Educat 60:860, 1985.
    ONUOHA ARA: Demographic characteristics of educators in physical and
    occupational therapy programs in Canadian universities. Physio Canada
    32:331, 1980.
    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,
    BELANGER AY, GIRARD J: Scholarly publication by Canadian physical therapy
    faculty. Physio Canada 48:32, 1996.
    LIA-HOAGBERG B: Comparisons of professional activities of nurse doctorates
    and other women academics. Nurs Res 34:155, 1985.
    OSTMOE PN: Correlates of university nurse faculty publication productivity.
    J Nurs Educat 25:207, 1986.
    WHITE JH: Nurses who publish journal articles. Nursing Outlook 34:225, 1986.
    BERGSTROM N, HANSEN BC, GRANT M, JONES J: Collaborative nursing research:
    anatomy of a successful consortium. Nurs Res 33:20, 1984.
    FLANIGAN KS, BALLINGER PW, GRANT HK, ET AL: Research productivity profile
    of allied health faculty. J Allied Hlth 17:87, 1988.

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