Premature publication

November 6, 1998

As someone involved in the humanities and who chaired a panel in 1993, can I add my voice to concerns about the long-term damage inflicted on scholarship by research assessment exercises ("Out for the count", THES, October 16)?

What began as a laudable attempt to ensure good research was rewarded has got out of hand and threatens to become little more than a blunt instrument for driving struggling institutions to the wall and for forcing ever more scholars to publish well before they should. No academics in Japan, Europe or the United States are subjected to anything like this. We hardly notice any more that we write not for scholarship but for the RAE. In its own way, this is as fundamental a threat as censorship.

Premature publication has become as common as premature retirement. What is wrong in spending four years writing one substantial article that will be referred to by colleagues for the next 30? Anyone committed to serious long-term work is now under the kind of pressure from colleagues or administration that amounts to moral blackmail. Is no one else hopping mad?

Richard Bowring, Professor of Japanese. University of Cambridge

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