Publish or Perish!

Publish or Perish! Scientists publish huge numbers of papers each year, as shown in the infographic taken from the latest issue of Nature magazine. Most must pass through trial by fire, more benevolently known as Peer Review.. one of those unpaid, thankless jobs that we scientists agree to take on, mostly out of guilt. This collection of reviewer comments compiled by the editors of Environmental Microbiology will lighten my holiday task. 🙂

• Season’s Greetings! I apologize for my slow response but a roast goose prevented me from answering emails for a few days.

• Reject – More holes than my grandad’s string vest!

• The writing and data presentation are so bad that I had to leave work and go home early and then spend time to wonder what life is about.

• I agreed to review this manuscript whilst answering e-mails in the golden glow of a balmy evening on the terrace of our holiday hotel on Lake Como. Back in the harsh light of reality in Belfast I realize that it’s just on the limit of my comfort zone and that it would probably have been better not to have volunteered.

• I started to review this but could not get much past the abstract.

• Merry X-mas! First, my recommendation was reject with new submission, because it is necessary to investigate further, but reading a well written manuscript before X-mas makes me feel like Santa Claus.

• Ken, I would suggest that EM is setting up a fund that pays for the red wine reviewers may need to digest manuscripts like this one. (Ed.:this excellent suggestion was duly proposed to the Publisher. However, given the logistical difficulties of problem-solving within narrow time frames,combined with the known deleterious effect of transport on good wine, a modification of the remedy was adopted, namely that Editors would act as proxies for reviewers with said digestive complaints.)

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26 Responses to Publish or Perish!


  1. Rajini Rao , you may find the following of interest: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n24/keith-thomas/universities-under-attack


    There certainly is “a vast amount of premature publication and an even larger amount of unnecessary publication by those who have nothing new to say at that particular moment, but are forced to lay eggs, however addled.”


    I gather Universities all over are laboring under similar constraints.

  2. Rajini Rao says:


    Jeff Brown , Russian scientists emigrated en masse to South America, US and elsewhere after the breakup of the Soviet Union. It looks like they have not yet recovered from that brain drain. Iran was surprising to me too, I wonder if there is a specific scientific field showing the increase..

  3. Alice Haugen says:


    Tufte would love this graphic.

  4. Alice Haugen says:


    I had one of those Russian emigrée scientists in my lab for a while – odd to think of myself as part of a global trend.

  5. Rajini Rao says:


    Marc Ponomareff , much of that article resonated strongly with me. There is way too much emphasis on journal impact factor, the newly fashionable h-index which rates scientists on their citations and mindless bean counting, that assumes more publications must be good. Still, it’s the end of the year, and I must be thankful that I get paid to do what I love best. If Santa is listening, please send more grants. 🙂

  6. Alice Haugen says:


    It’s one of the corollaries to the Kelvin fallacy – that which counts best should count most.

  7. Rahul Joshi says:


    Ha ha.. .it lightened up my day (night) for sure by the time I read the 4th one. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  8. Jeff Brown Rajini Rao Maybe Russian scientists are patenting or trade-secreting their ideas more?

  9. DaFreak says:


    • The writing and data presentation are so bad that I had to leave work and go home early and then spend time to wonder what life is about.


    Man that’s harsh. :p


    Iran is pushing stemcell research and it has a booming nanotechnology industry as well. On top of that they are very much into nuclear science and anything that is IT and communcations related. All the pressure that the outside world is putting on them is a really good motivator to fund research because they want to get their hands on new technologies. They also attract many scientists from all over the middle east which probably helps explain these numbers. What surpises me the most is that this fundamentalist religious regime does not object to stemcell research… The US might actually learn a thing or two from them. :p

  10. Neil Tsubota says:


    A “roast goose”…. I know that your father is a vegetarian. Say hi to him for me. Mr. Rao and I went to the movies in St. Croix USVI. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


    ps- I like your postings. I can tell why your father is so proud of you !

  11. Rajini Rao says:


    Hi Neil Tsubota , thanks for your kind words. True, my father is a vegetarian and I daresay he is proud of me 🙂 but I don’t think he’s been to St. Croix! He’s a physicist/engineer who did some amazing stuff (e.g., he worked with the Pentagon and IBM to bring mainframes to India in the 60’s)..but there must be another amazing Mr. Rao out there with a daughter of my name? My dad is 85 and lives in India and although he regales us with stories of his travels, he’s not mentioned St. Croix 🙂 Merry X-mas and all the best to you too!

  12. Neil Tsubota says:


    Ask your father about his accident in St. Croix. He was fine. He ran into a bus. Nothing serious, He was not hurt. Latter into the project we went to the local movie theater and watched George Coolney in the “Perfect Storm”….ask him about this.


    I hope that at his age he is “retired” in Bangalor, India.


    Last time I “linked-in” with him he was in Texas.


    Enjoy Life.

  13. Rajini Rao says:


    Koen De Paus , I’m virtually 100% certain that the authors never got to see these remarks. They are in a separate section entitled, “confidential comments to the editor”. One clue is the recommendation to reject: reviewers are specifically asked not to mention choices of accept/reject in their review, that’s up to the editor to decide. Happily, the authors of these abominations could well be chuckling over these comments without knowing that they were directed at them 🙂


    Interesting comment about fundamentalist regime of Iran not having any problem with stem cell research. I’ve always marveled that India, a deeply orthodox country in terms of religion, does a great job in keeping religion out of science and technology. It’s like they have a spiritual side and a pragmatic side that are separate. The US is incredibly backwards in this.


  14. I believe the intermixing (or lack of it) of science and religion is a function of how old the country is and how closely it geographically is to an ancient civilization. Ancient civilizations (Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indus Valley, Chinese) and to a lesser extent Greek and Roman, were harbingers of modern day mathematics, science and technology. So, I am not too surprised that people in countries like #India (Indus Valley), #Iran (Mesopotamian), #Egypt and #China have an ingrained sense of separating science from religion.. My conclusion: The age of the country is directly proportional to scientific tolerance!

  15. Rajini Rao says:


    That’s a plausible theory, Raja Swaminathan! Religion is just “old hat” in these ancient civilizations..something we take for granted (even if we don’t buy into it or practice it).


  16. Rajini Rao I am actually arguing that in modern countries that have linkage to ancient civilizations, on one hand we take science for granted, which to me is forward progress of civilization and on the other hand, we argue (I think uselessly) about religion.. I am not necessarily sure if we actually take religion for granted, judging by the arguments, clashes (in some cases violent) which to me represents backward progress of civilization.

  17. Rajini Rao says:


    Good point. The religious fights are between factions, though, not between broad divides of religion and science (although religion does spill into politics..but then, everything does).


  18. This is interesting! It pertains to one field of science. It would be interesting to make such a comparative study on many fields of science. It would suggest what area each of these countries is focused on!


  19. So it’s cheaper of invention in asia things moved faster.


  20. Hey, I love marking papers, and discussing them. It’s funny ‘coz most of my colleagues hate the process.

  21. Rajini Rao says:


    I missed that one..it’s hilarious! I give points to witty writing too (even if I recommend rejection, ha!). I have a pile of papers to review this coming week, all overdue of course..the editors have been hounding me ..oh well, I’ll blame it on the “roast goose” 🙂

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