Citations Aren’t Enough: Academic Promotion and Scholar’s Presence in Popular Media


Scholars all around the world are almost solely judged upon their publications in (prestigious) peer-reviewed journals. Asit Biswas and Julian Kirchherr argue that publications in the popular media must count as well. After all, these publications are crucial in informing practitioners’ decision-making.

Many of the world’s most talented thinkers may be university professors, but sadly most of them do not shape today’s public debates or influence policies. Indeed, scholars often frown upon publishing in the popular media. “Running an opinion editorial to share my views with the public? Sounds like activism to me”, a professor recently noted at a conference, hosted by the University of Oxford. The absence of professors from shaping public debates and policies seems to have exacerbated in recent years, particularly in the social sciences. Even debates among scholars do not seem to function properly.

Up to 1.5 million peer-reviewed articles are published annually. However, many are ignored even within the scientific community: 82 percent of articles published in humanities are not even cited once. Rarely do scholars refer to 32 percent of the peer-reviewed articles in the social and 27 percent in the natural sciences.

If a paper is cited, though, this does not imply it has actually been read. According to one estimate, only 20 percent of papers citedhave actually been read. We suspect that an average paper in a peer-reviewed journal is read completely at most by no more than 10 people. Hence, impacts of most peer-reviewed publications even within the scientific community are miniscule.

knowledge policyImage credit: oscar cesare (Wikimedia, Public Domain)

Many scholars aspire to contribute to their discipline’s knowledge and to influence practitioner’s decision-making. However, it is widely acknowledged practitioners rarely read articles published in peer-reviewed journals. We know of no senior policy-maker, or senior business leader who ever reads any peer-reviewed papers, even in recognized journals like Nature, Science or The Lancet. No wonder: First of all, most journals are prohibitively expensive to access for anyone outside of academia. Even if the current open-access-movement becomes more successful, the incomprehensible jargon and the sheer volume and lengths of papers (mostly unnecessary!) would still prevent practitioners (including journalists) from reading them. Original Source (LSE Impact of Social Sciences)

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