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Publications, Peer Review, and the Young Scientist

R. L. Kellett, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton,,Canada

(The Newsleter of the American Geophysical Union, or AGU)

As scientists and communicators, we all make our living through the expression of our ideas and the results of our scientific research. This expression takes many forms, but, most notably, published articles lie at the heart of our endeavors. I would like to present my opinions on some problems that I, as a young scientist, see in our profession.

Several years ago, two wonderful letters appeared in Geology discussing the problems of honorary co-authorship [Zen, 1988; Means, 1988]. Honorary co-authorship is a byproduct of the system set up to fund scientific research. More generally, the problem is the need to publish a great number of articles in order to survive.

In my own experience of reading and refereeing manuscripts I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of poorly presented scientific material. I am concerned with three facets of this problem. The first. is the duplication of material from previously published, articles. Often this duplication goes beyond that necessary in a good introduction and borders on laziness and a lack of originality. The second is the move toward short. articles in rapid publication journals. These journals provide a valuable medium for our ideas, but they should not be the sole outlet for our research because authors are often not able to present the amount of data that are necessary to determine if their conclusions are valid. The third aspect is the peer review process, in which our colleagues are supposed to critically and impartially review our scientific output. One would hope that if a lot of time and effort went into reviewing a manuscript then the valid comments and suggestions would be acted upon. Unfortunately, this does not always seem to be the case, and I find this situation most discouraging. In my experience, which is somewhat limited I admit, I have found that it does not pay, in terms of the time invested, to thoroughly review a paper because the comments are likely to be ignored anyway. I wonder how many others have come to the same conclusion.

I feel that these points must be addressed by the scientific community as a whole because we are on a downward spiral of ever decreasing funds, and ever increasing volume of mediocre publications, none of which are being read. A short?term result will certainly be the turning away of myself, and a lot of my friends and colleagues, simply because the rewards of a scientific career are nonexistent. ?

R. L. Kellett, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton,,Canada


Means, W., On "Abuse of co-authorship," Letters, Geology, 16, 958, 1988.

Zen, E., Abuse of co-authorship: Its implications for young scientists, and the role of journal editors, Geology, 16, 292, 1988.

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