Difan Lin

Publish or Perish: A System Design Approach


Like bees producing honey, researchers in academia are tirelessly producing publishable research outcomes, but at the cost of their own well-being. The increasing pressure on researchers to publish in order to not perish has led to an increase in fraudulent and wasteful behaviors that threaten the integrity of academia and society’s trust in it. It has also resulted in the proliferation of publications while quality is declining. Like worker bees, researchers are seemingly trapped in this self-reinforcing environment.



The literature review, expert conversations, researcher interviews, and systems mappings explored the complex and systemic nature of the publish or perish syndrome. The research uncovered multiple systems components in which it identified flaws within the meritocratic metrics system used for the evaluation of researchers. The flaws include the exclusive use of quantitative metrics, e.g. number of publications and citations, and the absence of any qualitative aspects, such as the research process and accessibility within the evaluation process. Thus the situation incentivizes efforts that aim at increasing publications, citations, or committing fraud, but not necessarily the creation of good research.



An innovation funnel model was combined with co-creation and testing sessions to explore, combine, evaluate and refine ideas into a potent solution for an improved metrics system. The process closely involved industry experts and affected researchers and arrived at the conceptualization of an open metrics platform for researchers, research institutions, and academic publishers that enlarges the scope of research performance evaluation by the integration of more holistic performance metrics. As a result, the solution improves evaluation by redesigning the metrics in order to introduce system-level change.



A systems approach in contrast to a reductionistic approach allows a problem to be studied in a non-isolated way and integrates the larger environment into one’s perspective. While this increases complexity, it holds the potential of uncovering radically new insights unobtainable through a reductionistic approach.



The collaboration with experts and affected stakeholders introduced diverse and critical perspectives on the research and design process. While this required more time and dedicated resources, it had the benefit of evolving the project organically based on insights from real users and allowed the solution to be centered closer around real situations and needs.



The challenges in dealing with complex systemic problems allowed required the reduction and simplification of complexity and abstraction to ideas in order for any information to be communicated to other people involved in the process. Sophistication and ease of communication should therefore be balanced in the early stages of a project in order to keep the project manageable and communicable.

Interactive exhibition

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