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My advisor recently mentioned that the point of publishing throughout your PhD is so your committee doesn't have to read your dissertation to determine whether it's sufficient for a PhD--if you have enough publications in peer-reviewed conferences/journals, the committee can just rubber stamp the dissertation without effort. For context, the field is computer science and engineering.

Is really the point? Obviously publishing work throughout the PhD is important, but to me this seems a dumb reason. I thought the point was to be continually learning and developing as a scholar, not to publish a series of half-baked papers so your committee can avoid reading your work several years down the line. Perhaps I am being idealistic.

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    May well be (possibly) true for some disciplines, but not all. – Solar Mike May 3 at 6:02
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    There are some disciplines at some universities that allow "PhD through publications", meaning that once you have around 3-4 papers (single authored or provable that you did most of the work) published in reputable journals, you write a short introduction connecting their contents, staple them together and get your PhD. – Dirk May 3 at 6:23
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    @bobthecoder Can you add your country? – user2768 May 3 at 7:56
  • Some disciplines just require you to have published. In others you may just write a dissertation, I guess there the statement is true, that publications based on parts of the dissertation (or vice versa) helps to assess the dissertation faster. And helps you to write a good dissertation, because parts of it are peer reviewed. – allo May 3 at 8:44
  • What @Dirk described is by far the most common form of a dissertation in my uni & field, to the point where anything else would be highly unusual. – starless May 3 at 13:37
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Some thoughts on this:

  • It certainly helps the committee if (parts of) the thesis were already assessed before - along the lines of "If somebody else already said that this is good then it can't be that bad after all".
  • It also helps the student to convince the committee that this is mature enough for graduation (same argument as above).
  • Some universities allow cumulative theses i.e. introduction + 3* pdfs of first authorship papers + discussion. (* the number depends on the field). This is mainly as writing a thesis with several hundred pages is something you will never need again even if you continue in science. Most fields just publish in short journal article nowadays and writing 200 pages about a content that can be covered in 5 pages is not a skill you need (and nobody wants to read these 200 pages (including your committee)) - sounds mean but it is like this.
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One of the requirements in my school is that the writing in a thesis should be of "publishable standard". One way of quickly ticking that particular box is to have published some of it already, so in that respect, the examiner won't have to read the whole thesis specifically thinking "but is this writing publishable?". That will make their job slightly easier. Plus, peer reviewed publications can strengthen your argument. But (in the UK, where we have an oral exam, too) the examiners still have to understand the research well enough to ask intelligent questions and find any flaws. It seems false economy to eschew the full and complete thesis you have in your hands in favour of hunting down a short series of (page-limited) publications.

That said, it's also perfectly possible to pass with no previous publications.

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