“Let’s Write a Paper”
| Nicolai Foss |
I have noticed that an increasing number of colleagues build up and afterwards desperately try to manage increasingly large portfolios of paper projects. It is very common to have paper portfolios that encompass more than 20 ongoing projects. At any rate, that’s about the size of my own current portfolio.
I have also noticed that a lot of these paper ideas don’t seem to ever come to be written, or, at best exist in a fragmentary form. I can relate many anecdotes (some from personal experience!) relating to substantial regret over set-up costs (aka pissing your would-be co-author off). It is possible that this may increasingly become a management problem, certainly on the level of the individual scholar, but perhaps also on the level of university managers (mainly dept. heads).
The question is: Is this (personally and socially) wasteful? The basic problem is that in order to end up with a suitable amount of published papers a certain amount of exploration is necessary. Co-authoring papers is a Hayekian discovery process. It is pretty hard, perhaps particularly for younger, unexperienced colleagues, to make reasoned decisions on how many papers one should initiate and with whom (given the costs of experimentation, i.e., set-up costs, the risk of ruining your reputation, etc.). Reputation mechanisms work imperfectly. Big, but lazy, guys may exploit this, hoping for the rookie to do the job. Problems of procastination and melioration may complicate the decision problem. Etc.
From another point of view, however, not much has really changed. Whereas scholars in the past may have spent much time discussing research issues over the lunch table, etc., the publication pressure that most of us are subject to nowadays means that many discussions that would previously have simply ended over the lunch table are now turned into paper ideas. If that is the case, the process appears much less wasteful — and, importantly, in need of less intenvention by well-intentioned, but (naturally!) misguided university bureaucrats.