Academics Behaving Badly

I had an interesting experience the other week as an editor of an innovation journal. The specifics of the story are a tale of academic corruption but in the broader sense it highlights issues about how academics should communicate their work. Tim is probably freaking out as he reads the blog title but I promised him I wouldn’t name anyone in case we get sued.

I am an associate editor of a journal called Prometheus: Critical Issues in Innovation. The journal has been around for a few decades as a technology and science policy journal with some innovation management content. Over time, interest in the public policy angle has waned and I joined the editorial board this year as part of an effort to refocus the journal on innovation management.

About two months ago I recieved an email from the managing editor, Stuart Macdonald (Sheffield University) to review a paper that had been submitted to the journal. I’m not very familiar with research that has been done on emotional intelligence and innovation so somewhat unusually, I did a topic search on Google Scholar to see what had been done lately. What I found was a journal article that had been published in March this year that seemed quite relevent to the topic but after reading the published article I realized that it was almost indetical to the one that I had been given to review. This is in complete breach of the agreement that authors sign up to when submitting their research to a journal.

Feeling pretty outraged, I told Stuart what I had found and then let him loose on his investigations. This is easy for Stuart since the author is working at a ‘significant’ UK university. It turned out after talking to the other journal that the author had submitted his paper to Prometheus while doing final revisions to his other article. In other words, the misconduct was completely deliberate. In some parts of the world such as Australia and the UK, research performance has become a numbers game with some journals being rated higher than others (regardless of the value of the particular article) and the more publications the better. Under these conditions, people work out how to play the game very quickly and I think that the temptation to act in a way that damages the academic community has become too great for some.

That story isn’t terribly interesting to non-academics but the conversations that followed got me thinking about how universties should share their research. Publishing in journals is an incredibly slow process. Minimally, it can take about 6 months (rare) but typically to go through the revisions to meet the satisfaction of the reviewers it can take years. The reason why we keep going through this process is that we believe in the integrity of the journal review system. In this regard, the responses from the publishers of Prometheus and the other journal are worth thinking about. The Prometheus publishers (Routledge) deal with at least one of these cases every day. More concering, the editor of the other journal couldn’t see a problem with what had happened, but fortunately the publisher of that journal was considering legal action.

With all the pressure to publish and gaming that goes along with it, the inefficiency and waste starts to look more untennable. Don’t take this as a rant by someone who can’t get published. We both get our research published (and sometimes we ‘score hits’ in the top journals). Tim and I get some good feedback on our research through these journals but I’ve got to say that a lot of our current work comes from ideas that we share on this blog and the responses and comments from you, the reader. Keep the comments and ideas coming. They help keep me sane as I try to get my work published. Perhaps just getting ideas out there for comment is better than a pseudo rigourous review process.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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