No One Is Listening

No One Is Listening


Up to 1.5 million peer-reviewed articles are published annually. However, many are ignored even within scientific communities — 82 per cent of articles published in humanities are not even cited once. No one ever refers to 32 per cent of the peer-reviewed articles in the social and 27 per cent in the natural sciences. If a paper is cited, this does not imply it has actually been read. According to one estimate, only 20 per cent of papers cited have actually been read. We estimate that an average paper in a peer-reviewed journal is read completely by no more than 10 people. Hence, impacts of most peer-reviewed publications even within the scientific community are minuscule.

Those figures appear in The Straits Times article “Prof, no one is reading you” by Asit Biswas and Julian Kirchherr. The article notes the lack of impact that the typical article has, and encourages academics to publish in popular venues.

If academics want to have an impact on policymakers and practitioners, they must consider popular media, which has been ignored by them — although media firms have developed many innovative business models to help scholars reach out. One effective model is Project Syndicate (PS), a non-profit organisation, which distributes commentary by the world’s thought leaders to more than 500 newspapers comprising 300 million readers in 154 countries. Any commentary accepted by PS is automatically translated into 12 other languages and then distributed globally to the entire network.

The philosopher who appears to have written the most for Project Syndicate is Peter Singer, but there are others who have done so, including Michael Marder, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, and Carl Elliott.

The authors of the Straits article recommend that op-eds and policy impact be included and given weight in assessing academic performance, where appropriate, presumably. They acknowledge that “scholars often frown upon publishing in the popular media” but they argue that attitudes need to change. See our recent discussion on this—Reputational Cost of Public Philosophy.  (Also, recall the American Philosophical Association’s annual op-ed contest.)

Of course, not all scholarship—and certainly not all philosophical scholarship—has any practical import or policy value. But there are other outlets by which philosophers have reached the public—think of Philosophy Talk, Philosophy Bites, History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, The Prindle Post, Very Bad Wizards, Wi-Phi, and so on (feel free to add others in the comments).

Perhaps also worth recalling, in light of the 82% uncited figure, is “Philosophers Don’t Read and Cite Enough,” a guest post here at Daily Nous by Marcus Arvan. And then there is the question of whether the public wants philosophy at all.

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