Suresh says we don’t need publication counts

Suresh points out that Richard Feynman wrote only 37 research papers.

I entirely agree with what Suresh implies. To be fair, the main Canadian science funding agency (NSERC), while it asks for your publication list, actually asks you first what your top 5 contributions are. The concept of a contribution is open ended. Maybe you had an idea and wrote 10 papers on it. Or maybe you wrote a journal paper on a crucial idea. Or maybe you designed one piece of software. Or maybe you wrote a patent. Maybe you lead a research project. Naturally, contributions tend to lead to publications, but the relation is not bijective.

This doesn’t mean that the number of publications is irrelevant. There is a correlation between the number of papers someone wrote and the importance of his contributions. But need I remind you, dear reader, that a correlation is not the same as causality? Having written 255 papers (yes, I met a man who had such a pub. record this very summer) does not imply you did anything significant other than keeping journals and conferences alive.

I suggest that publishing frequently is more important than publishing many papers. If you stop publishing for many years, then release a very thick book (Wolfram’s example comes to mind), you are not doing yourself a favor. Also, it is tremendously difficult to get and keep a job or a grant if you stop publishing for a long time. Other than that, we ought to actually read what people write instead of, I don’t know, counting the number of words/pages/papers/books?

Recently, I added a table with count statistics to my c.v. Maybe I should take it out.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

One thought on “Suresh says we don’t need publication counts”

  1. what is your count statistics in your C.V. I think you can take it out. It is not necessary to prove the others that you are good by numbers. It is more or less by reputations that you are in a circle.

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