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Year : 2000  |  Volume : 46  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 163

Publication and promotion: call for breaking the link.

Correspondence Address:
A R Fernandez

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 11298461

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Keywords: Academic Medical Centers, Advertising, Human, Leadership, Publications, standards,trends,Research, standards,trends,United States,

How to cite this article:
Fernandez A R. Publication and promotion: call for breaking the link. J Postgrad Med 2000;46:163

How to cite this URL:
Fernandez A R. Publication and promotion: call for breaking the link. J Postgrad Med [serial online] 2000 [cited 2023 Sep 22];46:163. Available from:

If I may take the liberty of rephrasing Shakespeare’s words, ‘The spoken word is often buried with one’s bones – it is the written word that lives long after’. This is particularly true in the field of academic medicine where a person’s progress is mainly judged by the number of papers he has published. The key words here are ‘number of publications’. Very little if any emphasis is laid on the quality of these publications and on whether they have contributed in any way to the advancement of scientific knowledge.

This “publish or perish’ philosophy has bred in its make, many unethical practices. It is common knowledge now that data can be fabricated or can be interpreted to suit ones purpose. A single set of related observations can be fragmented into many published in different journals after making only a few changes. There is a tendency to give authorship to persons who have not contributed significantly and will not take primary responsibility for the published data. There is also a growing tendency to do quick retrospective studies than to carry out prospective blindest or controlled studies. In short, the emphasis is “to write something” and not on meticulously analyse and publish data which would make a difference in management techniques. Seen from a wider perspective, it therefore becomes difficult to separate the “wheat from the chaff” i.e. to pick out scientifically relevant articles from the plethora of useless literature.

Let me give you an example. Doctors from as illustrious an institution as John Hopkins University, published an editorial in Journal of Anaesthesia which was subsequently plaguerised.[1] One shudders to think of what might be happening in lesser know institutions.

Why does this happen? John Hopkins University itself carried out a study on academic promotion at a medical school. They found that faculty members who were promoted had a rate of publication that was approximately twice that of faculty members who were not promoted.[2] This clearly indicates that the primary incentive to publish is personal advancement. Other reasons which are cited are increasing competitiveness, the minimal risk of being caught as compared to the benefit and better prospects of getting funding. The commonest reasons given for gift authorship are to enhance the chances of publication, to repay favours to maintain good relationships and to motivate a team collaborators.

The present system has many flaws, but it also has some strengths. The number of publications is a simple and an unambiguous criterion that is easy to judge. Also it does encourage those truly interested in research to produce articles of good quality.

It is therefore necessary to modify the system so as to eliminate its faults and retain its strengths. Firstly, the peer pressure to publish should be substantially decreased. A ceiling should be put on the number of publications that may be considered for promotion. This would ensure that every person’s resume would list only those papers which the individual thinks to be his/her best. This would shift the emphasis from quantity of research to its quality. Secondly there should be well-defined criteria for authorship. An undertaking stating clearly the contribution of each author to the paper should accompany the publication. The authors should be willing to take full responsibility and be able to defend their work publicly. Once the number of publications listed is limited, it would be possible for the judging authorities to go into detail about their scientific merit.

However, I strongly feel that even if these flaws in the system were rectified, we would not be justified in making publication of articles the main criteria for promotion. When we judge whether a senior faculty member is fit for promotion, we need to judge not only his research capability, but also his clinical acumen, his dedication and abilities as a teacher and finally his organisational capacity. It is usually not possible for a single individual to excel in all these roles. It would be unfair to apply the single yardstick of research to judge the worth of a person who may be an astute clinician or an inspiring teacher but have had very little inclination to publish hackneyed scientific data.

In conclusion, I believe that the criteria for promoting an individual should be in congruence with the skills that he requires on a daily basis in doing his job well and that research should be only one of them.

 :: References Top

1. Todd MM. Plagiarism. Anesthesiology 1998; 89:1308   Back to cited text no. 1    
2.Batshaw ML, Plotnick LP, Petty BG, Woolf PK, Mellits ED. Academic promotion at a medical school. Experience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. N Engl J Med 1988; 318:741-747.   Back to cited text no. 2    

This article has been cited by
1 A nudge should be sent to all researchers
Skaik YA
2 Paying the price of research
Khan RI
SciDev.Net. 2004;
3 A few steps towards responsible authorship (and editorship)
Journal of Postgraduate Medicine. 2001; 47(4): 233-234


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