Productivism, research and scholarly communication: the thin line between poison and medicine

Teresa Cristina Rego

Teresa Cristina Rego

The journal Educação e Pesquisa (vol. 40, no. 2) features an article by the author and journal editor Teresa Cristina Rego in which she reflects upon the evaluation system which governs the processes of research, production and publication for graduate level students in Brazil. In essay form, the author puts forward her point of view with regard to the evaluation of researchers, universities and academic journals, and the effect that this process can have on the current and future situation for carrying out research in the country. Concerned with quantitative criteria for evaluation, Teresa shows how complicated it is to discuss this matter and the processes involved. Nevertheless, she puts forward some avenues to be considered regarding the paths which are and will be well travelled as far as the production, evaluation and communication of academic output are concerned.

Carrying out her roles of researcher, editor and member of the Academic Committee of SciELO Brazil where she represents the Humanities and Social Sciences, the author highlights the challenges of creating and strengthening policies which aim to meet the common interests of journal editors while at the same time being in harmony with the evaluation process carried out by national and international bodies.

Teresa presents her contributions relating to current analyses and studies with the goal of instigating and widening the discussion of the paths that one would like research and the policy of academic disseminating in Brazil to take, as well as giving continuity to the dialogue whereby new perspectives on well-known problems can generate controversies and future challenges. In the spirit of encouraging a dialogue, we invited Teresa to respond to the questions presented below so that we can stimulate interest in this subject to begin searching for a reflective and constructive process around concrete actions.

1) Your essay states that the excessive production of academic works brings about a glut of texts which have low relevance. On the other hand, amongst this mass of academic output, many works of quality can be found. In your opinion, how do we deal with this dilemma?

I understand that the excessive production of academic works is merely one of the factors which can bring about the increase of low- relevancy texts. As I tried to examine in my recently published article entitled Productivism, research and scholarly communication: between poison and medicine¹, the problem of production and scholarly communication in the present day context ( in Brazil and other parts of the world) is far more complex than it appears to be. And, it is mistakenly tied in with the way research has been promoted and evaluated.

The measures which are being taken to stimulate and encourage research have, more often than not, had the contrary effect to that intended. People have published more, there is no denying this. The problem is that there is an increasing number of individuals, who have no shame in publishing texts that have little relevance. This does not mean, however, that we are making advances from the point of view of knowledge. To my way of looking at it, in this case, the medicine has already turned into poison because we have slipped up in the dose which should be administered.

I think that the situation that researchers have to cope with these days is, generally speaking, very cruel. And, the scenario is awkward for everyone: for those who are starting to do research (who are already embarking on a highly competitive and often unethical game), for the most experienced (who, unprepared to face the demands and pressures of these new times, remain in a condition somewhere between numbness, disappointment or, and this is worse, in a state of submission, without the least possibility to criticize) , for those who adopt a somewhat superficial approach to research and produce low-quality texts (often in a significant quantity), and for the serious researchers, who although they continue to diligently carry out their research work, producing quality texts, independently of the charges and pressures from all sides, run the risk of being evaluated as unproductivebecause they have not published with the regularity and frequency which is demanded these days.

This scenario is also in no way encouraging for the editorial management of academic journals. Many editors, particularly those of the most highly rated journals, are currently obliged to manage a significant (and growing) number of submitted articles as well as the increase in the volume of work which involves the complete process of evaluating submissions. As can be stated, this is a field which is crying out for initiatives which are capable of breaking through the impasse and diversions which have become firmly entrenched over the last twenty years.

2. As far as you understand, what can be characterized as policy as far as academic productivism is concerned?

It is an pressing requirement that new ways of encouraging, evaluating and socializing academic output are created. This is the great challenge facing us. Productivism, which is understood as the obligation to publish in journals, which is viewed as virtually the only way to evaluate academic production and the quality of both the researcher and the institution to which he or she belongs, has been undermining for some time the ground beneath the feet of academics, putting at risk sinking one of the pillars of the public system of higher education in Brazil, the place where the majority of research is still carried out. This is exactly what has happened already or is in the process of happening in other cultural contexts, most especially in the USA, and in some European countries. In the Brazilian context, I believe that it is already past the time for denunciation and getting things off our chests and that we should begin to seriously think about concrete alternatives for combatting the distortions that stem from the awkward system of evaluation which is currently in place.

I understand that the debate concerning the critical role of public policies and programs in the support of and evaluation of research that is communicated by journals is already, to a certain degree, advanced. These days criticisms of the policies of productivism echo from all sides. They are formulated and pronounced by researchers, editors and academics from practically all subject disciplines. Many are those that call attention not only to the waste of human, material and financial resources resulting from this logic, but also to the urgency of finding alternatives to verifying the academic value of research carried out or of a published work. The critics argue, for example, for the eradication of the tyranny of the Impact Factor.

From now on, we will need to put this knowledge at the service of overcoming the ambivalence surrounding the processes of fostering academic production and scholarly communication. The directions that research, researchers, their journals and the universities took in countries which began to implement this type of policy earlier already indicate the preverse effects that these processes can lead to. We can learn from these lessons. We need not repeat past mistakes.

3) On page 341, you state that “high productivity, in addition to causing a deep unease in academia, has caused serious distortions affecting, perhaps irreversibly, the directions of research production and scholarly communication in our country and in other parts of the world”. Why is nothing concrete being done to mitigate this situation since the community of researchers appears unable to overcome it by itself?

I myself would also like to know the answer to this question. I really do not understand why, in Brazil, we need to follow outmoded ways. And what is worse, presenting them as though they were leading-edge methods.

A good proportion of the countries that adopted the logic of productivism, especially the metric to measure the quality of academic production, these days recognize that it ended up wasting time, money and energy. Currently many representatives of major research centers in these countries struggle to mitigate the adverse effects that have resulted from such measures. And what is happening here? There is increasing pressure for professors of graduate programs and their advisors to publish, since academic production (read as publishing of articles) of teachers and students is the item with the most weight in the decisions concerning the evaluation of programs and the distribution of opportunities and financial resources to fund scholarships, grants and other types of support.

As an editor of an academic journal, and as a representative of publishers in the field Human Sciences in the SciELO Academic Committee over the last few years , I had the opportunity to see how the number of article submissions and journals have grown in Brazil. As I comment in the article, this in principle should not be frowned upon. Rather, it could indicate that we are doing more research and needing more avenues to announce the results and be accountable to society. What a mistake. If analyzed together, we see that most of this production is made of documents that testify to the efforts of the individuals (or groups) which are increasingly pressed by the necessity to publish (and to be cited!) to show and prove their production (just one more line in the ill-fated Currículo Lattes) and not, in fact, to build and disseminate knowledge and discoveries.

But, trying to answer the question put to me: I believe that it is a problem of political will. And also of the kind of science policy adopted. In other words, it all depends on the direction you want to give to research in Brazil and to policies for its dissemination. And this involves, and goes beyond, the more specific context of the academic community itself. Our government and its representatives, who work in bodies linked to the evaluation and promotion of research, should also be aware of the gravity of the situation in which we find ourselves. And this must be done before it is too late.

4) You propose a fourth action line for the SciELO network directed at political action. What would be the involvement of the journal editors in this process? What can they do?

What I proposed is that the SciELO network develop a political action to combat the flaws of the system of production, evaluation and communication of knowledge now prevailing. I think that this can be done by encouraging the meeting and joint actions of journal editors that belong to the SciELO Brazil collection. This may turn out to become a valuable forum where editors can find mutual support to be able to contend with these issues, from a political viewpoint, so that this worrisome picture of productivism is altered.

It is of little help for us to struggle in isolation for our journals to simply attain higher levels of acceptance and citation. We cannot see ourselves as competitors or enemies. We are all in the same boat. We need to unite because we face the same problems and pressures because our journals mirror the way science is being carried out in Brazil and in the world at large. For this reason, I have defended the thesis that it is not possible to treat scholarly communication separately from academic production. By this I mean that we need to think of alternatives that improve the way of producing and evaluating research in Brazil. Otherwise, we will continue to feel the perverse effects of misconduct in academic research, such as: the proliferation of papers not quite ready, incomplete papers, salami sliced, manipulations, falsification or fabrication of data or of results, plagiarism, self-plagiarism – presenting, in whole or in part, texts that have been published before by the same author, as if they were unpublished – ghost writers, etc., in our journals. Who knows if in this way we will succeed in increasing the relevance, quality and impact of what we publish.

Note

¹ REGO, T. C. Productivism, research and scholarly communication: between poison and medicine. Educação e Pesquisa. 2014, vol. 40, n. 2, pp. 325-346. Available from: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1517-97022014000200003&lng=pt&nrm=iso&tlng=en

References

BENCHIMOL, J. L., CERQUEIRA, R. C., and PAPI, C. Challenges to the publishers of humanities in scientific journalism and social networks: reflections and experiences. Educcação e Pesquisa. 2014, vol. 40, n. 2, pp. 347-364. Available from: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1517-97022014000200004&lng=pt&nrm=iso&tlng=en

PACKER, A. L. The emergence of journals of Brazil and scenarios for their future. Educação e Pesquisa. 2014, vol. 40, n. 2, pp. 301-323. Available from: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1517-97022014000200002&lng=pt&nrm=iso&tlng=en

 

About Viviane Gonçalves de Campos

Librarian, holding Masters degrees in Information Sciences from the Federal Universities of Santa Catarina and Paraná. Currently working as a consultant to publishing projects including books, journals, and blogs both nationally and internationally.

 

Translated from the original in Portuguese by Nicholas Cop Consulting.

 

Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

CAMPOS, V. G. Productivism, research and scholarly communication: the thin line between poison and medicine [online]. SciELO in Perspective, 2014 [viewed ]. Available from: https://blog.scielo.org/en/2014/08/28/productivism-research-and-scholarly-communication-the-thin-line-between-poison-and-medicine/

 

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