Publish-or-Perish

25 Sep

A few weeks ago, a prominent Dutch psychologist was fired on the spot. A charismatic personality, his quirky press releases had the media hanging on his lips. His latest experiments had shown that meat-eaters are more selfish and antisocial than vegetarians. People who eat that steak are compensating for their insecurity and loneliness, he argued.

The golden boy of social psychology, as it turned out, had cooked up the results.

Let’s, for now, forget that the same media that rushed to publicize his findings without bating a critical eyelid, now couldn’t nail him to the cross fast enough. Media hypocrisy is an appealing topic in its own right, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

It’s about something else. Comments about this scientific fraud, be it in the news, editorials, talk shows, or social media, frequently reverted to the proverbial publish-or-perish catchphrase: the pressure put on university staff to publish work constantly to reel in sponsors, get government grants, impress peers, and (thus) sustain a career in academia.

What astonished me during this tsunami of media coverage was that the publish-or-perish slogan was questioned not once. It was completely taken for granted.

Peter Foucault, Publish or Perish, Installation @ the I Magnin Building, Oakland, CA, 2006

While there is no excuse whatsoever for falsifying or concocting data, however high the publication pressure, this lack of reflection on the publish-or-perish model begs many, many questions.

Do we have our priorities straight in our institutions of higher education? What kind of institutions are we propagating, when we judge university faculty by the number of papers they have published, their citation index, and their media appeal? Serious and complex problems face the world and future generations. What better serves students – our future problem solvers: universities that cherish publishing machines or exceptional educators?

Has the publish-or-perish model in our universities led us astray? Do we need a paradigm shift? Might an Educate-or-Perish model be what puts us back on track?

A Tribute to the Twin Towers

10 Sep

This is my first post.

I’m writing this one day before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack.  Unforgettable, horrific images resurfaced in the media these past few weeks. Images of anguish, destruction, mayhem. Documentaries flooded the networks, full of humane tales, or conspiracy tales, or nightmarish film-montages of that day, to commemorate that almost surrealistic event in New York City ten years ago.

And then, I stumbled across a video of cartoonist Dan Meth. A montage of Twin Tower movie cameos featuring over 75 clips, from 1969 to 2001.  Even though it dedicated only a nanosnippet to the extraordinary documentary Man on Wire, it left me mesmerized, stunned and sad.  It brought back 9/11  in full force,  despite its Hollywood glow.

As a cognitive psychologist, this made me wonder about the nature of emotions, and about the power of positive versus negative images.  Do the horror-images of burning and falling buildings and bodies commemorate 9/11 in a stronger way than Dan Meth’s poetic tribute to the Twin Towers?

See Dan’s film and judge for yourself.

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