The Corner

Education

After the Academic Journal Hoax, How Can We Better Publish Research?

By now, most NRO readers have probably heard about the delicious hoaxes recently perpetrated on a number of academic journals in the social sciences. Sheer nonsense was (deliberately) submitted and subsequently published. Clearly, something has gone wrong when “research” that’s nothing more than word salads of jargon get published.

In today’s Martin Center piece, Professor John Staddon of Duke University analyzes the problems we now find in research and its publication.

In Staddon’s view, the vetting process that is essential to separating the wheat from the chaff is no longer working well. He writes, “Some scientific findings are better: more solid, more reliable, more interesting than others; some are more relevant than others to particular research questions. The communication system should signal the area of published research and its probable importance. Above all, editors should filter out false findings.”

Oh, oh — “false” findings. The academic world for years has been gripped by postmodern notions that deny the very concept of truth and falsity.

Another aspect of the problem is that the “publish or perish” imperative has led to a great proliferation of journals, and a concomitant decline in standards. “Lower-prestige journals can also succeed,” Staddon writes,  “because the pressure to publish in a peer-reviewed journal, any peer-reviewed journal, is relentless and affects every active researcher. More evidence for the publish-or-perish culture of modern research institutions is the steady supply of new journals, many with relaxed standards for vetting submissions.”

The system has become wasteful and ineffective. Scientists find it increasingly difficult to tell what is reliable and what is junk.

Staddon offers a number of ideas for saving the system and concludes, “But one thing is certain: the present system is slow, expensive, and inadequate. Science needs something better.”

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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