Motivations for Publishing in the Biomedical Sciences

Traditionally, it has been considered ethically correct for life science and medical professionals to publicize their discoveries and subject them to the scrutiny of their peers. Withholding information or refusing to communicate knowledge for the purpose of personal gain are both considered egregious sins against the scientific ethos.

Ostensibly, the results of a short survey conducted of members of The Science Advisory Board seem to support this honorable tradition. Upon further examination, other motivations for publishing and presenting emerge: demonstrating productivity, establishing prestige and attaining a higher salary or promotion. While these other motivations might first seem to be at odds with the idealistic goal of communicating knowledge, it is actually by acting in one’s own best self-interest that the accumulation and transmission of information occurs.

Recognizing that altruistic and egocentric motives can co-exist in the life science and medical professions does not diminish the tremendous contributions they make to the public good. It does, however, demystify the driving force behind research and discovery and ultimately, makes the results of these processes more accessible and understandable to the public.

A question I wanted to throw out to others is “Is this altruistic goal in conflict with other professional goals of scientists including obtaining promotions, salary raises, resources, patents, etc.?”

Additional points to ponder:

1. Because productivity is easier to assess than competence, do you believe that during performance reviews, a disproportionate emphasis is placed upon the number of first author papers a person has produced?

2. In their role as lab directors and mentors, senior scientific and medical professionals are often listed as last authors on papers. Is there a strong correlation between the number of last author papers and the productivity of that individual? Would “influence” perhaps be a more appropriate word than “productivity”?

The full summary of survey data is available at http://www.scienceboard.net/pdf/motivations%20for%20publishing.pdf

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