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QUESTION:

Is there formal data demonstrating that academic pressures (e.g. "publish or perish") has been increasing over time? Did anybody draw a rough calendar of which laws and rules changed at which time, resulting in the rise of such academic pressure?

CONTEXT:

In some universities of my (current) country of residence (Chile), various bibliometrics-based restrictions (as opposed to checking the content of a research or research proposal) are exerted on academics and students to insure they publish (e.g. an academic needs to have published 7 journal articles in "Web of Science" journals in the last 5 years in order to be allowed to direct a PhD student; a PhD student must have published two such journal articles before being allowed to defend; a Master student must have submitted two such journal articles before being allowed to defend), in addition to various incentives (e.g. bonus salary money from various entities for each article published into such a journal). Such coercive measures and incentives have increased over time (e.g. the threshold to be allowed to guide PhD students used to be 5 articles in the last 5 years, the monetary amounts paid for each publication is regularly increased, etc.).

World-wide, the "publish and perish" pressure of academia has been cited as a cause for various cases of scientific fraud, and it is my understanding that it is seen as having increased over time, but I could not find any formal claim to that.

For a study of malpractices encouraged by "publish or perish" policies, I would like to document formally whether academic policies have increased the pressure to publish on academics, and whether such change of policies can be correlated with observable changes in academic behaviors (e.g. as was done in the article Citation gaming induced by bibliometric evaluation: A country-level comparative analysis for Italian publications regarding one Italian regulation).

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    First, your example shows that pressure may have become more formalized, not that it has increased. Publish or Perish was the rule long before my career began fifty years ago.
    – Buffy
    Aug 15, 2023 at 11:51
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    Plotting the number of academic job openings vs the number of PhDs produced per year may prove illuminating.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 15, 2023 at 12:10
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    an academic needs ... to direct a PhD student ... a Master student must have submitted two such journal articles before being allowed to defend --- As I'm sure most everyone knows, requirements such as this result in highly variable standards in different fields. There is also the fact that books are more significant than journal articles in many humanities fields. Aug 15, 2023 at 13:15
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    "a Master student must have submitted two such journal articles before being allowed to defend" Pardon me, WTF? How can every (!) Master student be expected to produce sufficiently many sufficiently novel results for two journal papers? Am I missing or misunderstanding something important here? Aug 15, 2023 at 17:38
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    @JochenGlueck I was/am as baffled as you are. And I was told that, given the lack of requirement for the papers being accepted (there is no time to wait for the refereeing process to take its course), "bad advisors" just submit "bad papers" in order to let their "bad students" to defend their master, knowing they will be rejected. It is frowned upon but considered a logical conclusion of the measure (the measure itself considered an aberration of the system that nobody can change).
    – J..y B..y
    Aug 16, 2023 at 9:50

3 Answers 3

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Is there formal data demonstrating that academic pressures (e.g. "publish or perish") has been increasing over time?

Possibly not. However, national research bodies (NSF, UKRI, NRF, CONICYT ...) would have data that can be innovatively mined/analysed to extract deeper nuances beyond the 'intended purpose'.

A challenge is also that 'indicators' are varied and not easy to pinpoint, although they are largely known: one of the question you listed has some of them - Are there studies of malpractices in Academia resulting from "publish or perish" policies?.
I know of places where the 'collussion' is prevalent openly (overtly) and in another place where it's covert.

One challenge that academic faced is getting the 'requisite' ethics clearance to undertake research in this area, especially longitudinal studies. Where given, the research gets overly 'narrow' or meta-data. We sure need metrics research and critical realism-based causal mechanisms research beyond the cause-and-effect research.


The following research might give further pointers. PS: There's one I'm trying to remember; I'll update when I do.

Kinman, G. (1998). Pressure points: A survey into the causes and consequences of occupational stress in UK academic and related staff (pp. 1-40). London: Association of University Teachers.

Miller, A. N., Taylor, S. G., & Bedeian, A. G. (2011). Publish or perish: Academic life as management faculty live it. Career development international, 16(5), 422-445.

Kinman, G., & Jones, F. (2003). 'Running Up the Down Escalator': Stressors and strains in UK academics. Quality in Higher education, 9(1), 21-38.

Lee, M., Coutts, R., Fielden, J., Hutchinson, M., Lakeman, R., Mathisen, B., ... & Phillips, N. (2022). Occupational stress in University academics in Australia and New Zealand. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 44(1), 57-71.

Suart, C., Neuman, K., & Truant, R. (2022). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on perceived publication pressure among academic researchers in Canada. PloS one, 17(6), e0269743.

Fink, M., Gartner, J., Harms, R., & Hatak, I. (2023). Ethical orientation and research misconduct among business researchers under the condition of autonomy and competition. Journal of business ethics, 183(2), 619-636.

Fanelli, D., Schleicher, M., Fang, F. C., Casadevall, A., & Bik, E. M. (2022). Do individual and institutional predictors of misconduct vary by country? Results of a matched-control analysis of problematic image duplications. PloS one, 17(3), e0255334.

Gopalakrishna, G., Ter Riet, G., Vink, G., Stoop, I., Wicherts, J. M., & Bouter, L. M. (2022). Prevalence of questionable research practices, research misconduct and their potential explanatory factors: A survey among academic researchers in The Netherlands. PloS one, 17(2), e0263023.

Poutoglidou, F., Stavrakas, M., Tsetsos, N., Poutoglidis, A., Tsentemeidou, A., Fyrmpas, G., & Karkos, P. D. (2022). Fraud and deceit in medical research: insights and current perspectives. Voices in Bioethics, 8.

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Because academia is so broad, "pressure" can mean just about anything, and exact reasons people leave academia are not necessarily a matter of record (how does one know if a person who accepted a job outside academia would have preferred a job in academia?? How so you know for certain whether a faculty member left a department because they were denied tenure??), I have some doubt that you'll find a comprehensive reference. You might some ongoing surveys that might prove useful. For example, NSF used to track the careers of a subset of PhD recipients, and the data is at https://ncses.nsf.gov/surveys/earned-doctorates/2021#survey-info. With some work, you can probably find papers that cite that dataset.

Your answer might lie in simple math, though. Assuming one can find an average number of academics who train PhD students, and then estimate how many offspring they sire who are looking for academic jobs, then assuming it's more that one, that means that "demand" for academic slots is growing exponentially. Then, you can just track growth of the number of available academic slots. If the growth rate of trainees is greater than the growth rate of slots, "pressure" is going up.

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    I don't undertand the claim that the "'demand' for academic slots is growing exponentially". If the generation n fills p(n) positions and each academic in this generation has, on average, f(n) off-springs looking for academic jobs, then the number of available candidates per position for the generation n+1 is f(n) p(n) / p(n+1). This numbers doesn't grow exponentially, unless f(n) does. In particular, f(n) > 1 does not imply exponential growth (it does not even imply any growth at all). (That's of course an oversimplified model, but I think it suffices to demonstrate my point.) Aug 17, 2023 at 15:45
  • @JochenGlueck yeah, you're right -- I didn't allow for the fact that there aren't automatic positions created for the next generation, so the number of progenitors is ceilings at a cap for a given time. Aug 17, 2023 at 16:07
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    Thanks for your response! (Funnily, if even such new positions were created at an exponential rate, while the number of candidates would indeed grow exponentially then, the job market would in fact become less competitive - since the ratio p(n)/p(n+1) would be less then 1 in this case. Ok, enough idle mathematical digression... ;-) ) Aug 17, 2023 at 16:16
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In his videos (e.g. Why is academia so toxic? 6 insider bombshells, PhD Student Advice | 5 insider secrets no one tells you about, etc.) Chemistry Doctor Andy Stapleton lists various issues in Academia and mentions for some of them how they evolve over time (especially in universities always want more). It is not formal enough to use as a reference for an academic study, but it might be a beginning.

Among the problems he mentions, I would highlight

  1. Competitiveness
  2. h-index
  3. Peer review papers
  4. Funding
  5. Not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel
  6. limited amounts of money
  7. being first matters
  8. metrics and comparison
  9. the system creates toxic people
  10. universities always want more
  11. luck plays a huge role

I (or others) might add more links from his other videos (such as 6 Dirty Tactics Found In Academia & Universities | Watch out!)

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