Friday, August 12, 2011

Incentives to research productivity

There is an interesting article in Science, presenting the results of a study to understand the effect of different incentive systems on the efforts to publish of scientists. Many countries have been concerned to increase their scientific productivity, and several have introduced incentive schemes to encourage scientific publications. In some cases the funding for research institutions has been made contingent on the papers produced by the institution, in others cash awards have been made to the authors, and in still a third career progression has been enhanced for authors.

The authors studied the journal Science because of its high impact factor and international and interdisciplinary scope; the annual number of articles published in Science has remained fairly constant at ∼800 over the decade studied. "During the 10-year study period, first authors from 144 different countries submitted 110,870 original research articles; 7.3% of these submissions were accepted for publication, with first authors from 53 different countries."

Results of the study are summarized in the following table.

It appears relatively easy to increase the number of papers submitted to Science, since that occurred for all the incentive schemes. On the other hand, the actual number of publications was increased primarily by incentive schemes that provided career advancement for those who succeeded in publishing. Note that the institutional and cash bonus incentive schemes may have tended to decrease the portion of submitted papers that were accepted. It is tempting to assume that "publish or perish" schemes, such as those used by universities in the United States and Canada, are a good option for science policy experts seeking to increase the output of high quality research reports.

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