Publish or Die – Publish to Science – SWR2

If you want to be successful in science, you have to publish a lot. Effect: underdeveloped results, unique trials, pseudo-diaries. The pressure to publish is enormous.

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Impact Factor (IF): the key currency of science

Almost 80 percent. researchers at German universities have fixed-term contracts. In the case of extensions, they depend on the goodwill of the superiors. “Publish or Die” – publish or disappear – this is especially true for this group of people. Anyone who speaks about it publicly must expect flaws.

Before being published in a specialist journal, the article is peer reviewed by colleagues. This so-called peer review procedure is for quality assurance. The following applies: the more famous a magazine is, the better it is for your reputation and therefore your career. In the publication race, the most important thing is the frequency of citing a scientific journal. This causes the so-called Impact Factor. It is an important key currency in the scientific community.

“Data massage” and the production of research waste

In 2014, a series of articles was published in The Lancet magazine – one of the most renowned medical journals in the world. Title: “Adding Value, Reducing Waste”. The conclusion is that more than two-thirds of all research in biomedical research is just bullshit. Not repetitive, irrelevant.

In 2011, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania published an article, “False Positive Psychology.” In it, they showed how easy it is to calculate a significantly positive – ie not accidental – result with a few tricks and tricks. This is called self-deprecating “data massage.”

The respected medical journal The Lancet found that over two-thirds of all research in biomedical research is garbage: not repetitive, irrelevant


Images imago / Addictive Stock / Carlos Pintau

‘Open Data’: Open Data allows you to validate your results

Felix Schönbrodt, professor of psychology at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, has developed with colleagues the ‘Commitment to Research Transparency’. “Voluntary Commitment to Research Transparency.” This also includes so-called “open data”, raw data is also made available for all published research projects. Schönbrodt notes that young scientists in particular place emphasis on greater transparency and quality.

Based on the disclosed data, the investigation can be checked immediately after publication. The so-called “pre-registration” of studies is another requirement for improving the quality of studies. The methodological procedure, including the research hypothesis and design, as well as the type of statistical evaluation, is established prior to the initiation of the study. This facilitates the repetition and further development of studies. This has often been a problem in the past.

Preprints enable scientific exchange even before the review

The dynamics of the corona pandemic also exposed weaknesses in the traditional publishing system. It takes too long to publish the results, mainly because of a “review”, prior scientific evaluation. This is why so-called “preprints” dominate the scientific debate today. Research that can be published online on scientific platforms and discussed by scientists without prior peer review.

Who pays is published: the system is vulnerable to abuse

The pressure to publish doesn’t just drive many scientists. Smart publishers are also trying to take advantage of this – by offering pseudo-science deals. Fake conferences are only a small part of the business. Predator Journals – pirate journals – are called specialist journals that publish almost any work as long as the author pays the appropriate fee for it. If you pay, your work will be published – regardless of quality.

The false author is cited more often than Albert Einstein

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have shown how arbitrary publishing practice is. They developed a computer program that self-compiled and published scientific articles after introducing a few technical terms. To do this, they invented the author and software that cites the author repeatedly between articles. At the end of the experiment, the bogus author overtook Albert Einstein on the citation list.

Quality offensive at the Berlin health research center

In Berlin, professor of neurology Ulrich Dirnagl has been working on a quality offensive for the life sciences for three years. He is the founding director of the so-called “QUEST Center”. QUEST means “Quality, Ethics, Open Science, Translation”. The center operates at the Berlin Institute of Health, the Charité research facility and the Center for Molecular Medicine. Max Delbrück.

Protect talented scientists from frustration and keep them from researching

7,000 scientists work at the Charité and the Max Delbrück Center. The QUEST Center aims to encourage them to pay more attention to the quality of their research. Also so that frustrated young scientists do not give up. For Dirnagl, they are the weakest link in the system, because many great young researchers give up publication after a few years.

QUEST tries to counter the frustration with the current scientific culture and regularly offers awards to support young scientists. For publications that go through cracks in the traditional publishing system. For example, replication studies that check the results. Or articles with so-called negative results that are scientifically valid but rarely published.

Bonus for data transparency

Anyone who publishes the complete study data will also be rewarded. All authors who submit their raw data with their results automatically receive a Charité Data Transparency Bonus from 2019 onwards. Further training, prizes, bonuses for better learning quality – this is an experiment for everyone involved, says Dirnagl.

SWR 2021

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