- Jun 2016
Despite opinions to the contrary, these data suggest that there has been no apparent increase in overall productivity per active author over the last decade. Instead, authors are using their authorship potential more wisely by becoming more collaborative in the way they work, which is driving an apparent inflation in each author’s productivity as well as author bylines. Instead, the underlying driver of the volume increase in articles published is simply the introduction of new entrants/authors into the market. That is not surprising, as the total population of researchers globally continues to rise every year, and they become increasingly subject to the principles of "publish or perish": and so the cycle continues.
No increase in overall productivity of authors.
This rise in ‘fractional authorship’ (the claiming of credit for authorship of a published articles by more than one individual) is most likely driven by research collaboration, and is an efficient mechanism by which each author can increase their apparent productivity from the same underlying research contributions (i.e. articles per unique author) of 0.56 articles per unique author per year.
rise of fractional authorship
Over the past ten years or so, the number of authorships per unique author (2.31 in 2013) has increased while the number of articles per unique author (0.56 in 2013) has declined (see Figure 2),
Number of authorships per unique author has gone up a little; number of articles per unique author has declined (by a tiny amount). Authorships per article has risen much more significantly.
Results of our analysis show that there has been a consistent growth in the number of articles published over the past decade; from 1.3 million in 2003 to 2.4 million in 2013 (see Figure 1). At the same time, the number of authorships has increased at a far greater rate from 4.6 million in 2003 to 10 million in 2013.
authorships are growing at a much faster rate than articles (though interestingly, "unique authors" are also growing at a faster rate than authors... though I think what they mean is the number of unique individuals identified as authors, however many times they are identified (= unique authors) vs. "number of names appearing in bylines (=authorships).
The phenomenon has become a focus of academic research itself, as a search for the phrase in Scopus retrieved 305 documents published on the topic from 1962 to date. On average, more than 20 articles per year were published on the topic over the past 5 years (2009 – 2013), with 37 articles alone published in 2013.
publish or perish is the focus of lots of study.
A 1996 article by Eugene Garfield (3) traces the phrase back to at least 1942,
bibliography on "publish or perish"
Publish or perish? The rise of the fractional author…
Plume, Andrew, and Daphne van Weijen. 2014. “Publish or Perish? The Rise of the Fractional Author….” Research Trends, no. 38(September). https://www.researchtrends.com/issue-38-september-2014/publish-or-perish-the-rise-of-the-fractional-author/.
Some researchers attribute the phrase to Kimball C. Atwood III, who is said to have coined the phrase in 1950 (
origin of the phrase "publish or perish"
- plume and van weijen 2014
- scholarly communication
- publish or perish
- number of scientists
- number of scholars