Africa Scientists Peter Martell/AFP/Getty Images

The New Brain Drain in Science

A twofold problem has emerged in science worldwide: select academic journals have become disproportionately influential, and they have placed a premium on empirical research. As scientists' research priorities, problems, and methods gravitate to these journals' standards, developing countries – and good science – are losing out.

DUBAI – In December 2013, the Nobel laureate physicist Peter Higgs told The Guardian that if he were seeking a job in academia today, “I don’t think I would be regarded as productive enough.” Having published fewer than ten papers since his groundbreaking work in 1964, Higgs believes that no university would employ him nowadays.

Academics are well acquainted with the notion of “publish or perish.” They must publish their work in peer-reviewed journals increasingly often to climb the career ladder, protect their jobs, and secure funding for their institutions. But what happens to scientists and other scholars, such as those in the Middle East, who have different research concerns from – and scant connections to – the professional journals that can make or break an academic/scientific career?

Scholars and institutions with high publishing rates in the established journals receive better productivity scores, which translate into bigger rewards, in terms of enhanced careers and greater research funding. Whether the work they are publishing has a measurable impact on their field of study is, sadly, too often a secondary concern. The incentives they face mean that quantity often comes before quality.

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