Media research: Quantity or Quality?

October 31, 2014 • Specialist Journalism • by

Researchers occasionally make us aware of the insanity of scholarly “productivity“. The publish or perish system young researchers are forced into and the brutal competition they face. Thomas Hanitzsch, of the University of Munich, has published an essay lamenting the absurd consequences of the “gold standard“ of research productivity.

Hanitzsch reported that 4800 journal articles in the field of communication studies were published in 2012, a 470% increase compared to 980 articles in 1999.

However, new knowledge in the field of communication studies has not quintupled since 1999 according to Hanitzsch, who is part of an international team conducting the Worlds of Journalism research project comparing journalism cultures in 21 different countries.

Instead, Hanitzsch argued in October’s edition of Journalism Studies, the time and effort to channel the flood of publications and to separate the good articles from the less good, has multiplied. He also pointed out that not all articles submitted for publication are being published.

Hanitzsch, who also edits Communication Theory, wrote what many colleagues are confirming off the record: selection procedures don’t work reliably. Many also believe that impact factors and citation statistics should not be confused with scientific quality, as these quantitative measures reveal nothing about the research itself. Unfortunately, the flaws of the peer review system not only affect journal publications, they also influence how taxpayer’s money is spent on research.

Hanitzsch only errs on one point. He writes that science is “being increasingly governed by an economic logic”. Here, he is falsely accusing economists. It is their job to channel precious resources into the most promising projects. The research system, however, suffers from too much university bureaucracy, organized irresponsibility, and non-transparent decision making. How long will it be before other media researchers and social scientists finally wake up to this?


pic credit: Flikr sualk61 

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