Tag Archives: “scientific misconduct”


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?

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