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John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley demonstrate how transistors work at Bell Labs in 1947

Alcatel/Lucent/Bell LabsJohn Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley demonstrate how transistors work at Bell Labs in 1947Alcatel/Lucent/Bell Labs

Pressure to constantly publish scientific articles may discourage scientists from searching for advances in innovative knowledge, according to a study led by sociologist Jacob Foster, professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. Foster and his associates assembled a database with more than 6.4 million scientific articles in the fields of chemistry and biomedicine. The articles were published from 1934 to 2008. First, they analyzed whether these papers dealt with research topics that had already been recognized or if they proposed original links. Next they looked to see if the publications were acknowledged as citations in other articles and whether their authors had received academic awards. They found that 60% of the articles did not create new links—a sign that they were not innovative. Based on its analysis of the acknowledgments, the group noted that researchers who merely answered previously established questions were happier to see their results published—a requirement for career advancement. Researchers who posed original questions and attempted to produce new links in the production of knowledge had difficulty publishing a large volume of articles. Yet, when they were successful, they were rewarded with more citations. The authors suggest that universities should give their researchers incentives to take on more risk and decouple job security from productivity indicators. They observe that a similar approach was highly successful in the mid-20th century at Bell Labs, where scientists were able to work on projects for several years without having to undergo evaluations.