Publication pressure threatens the integrity of palaeontological research

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Nussaïbah B. Raja , Emma M Dunne 


Publications are the de facto currency of academia. Academics, palaeontologists included, are often judged by publication metrics, which usually include the impact factor of the journal in which they publish, the number of publications and the number of citations. However, in the race to publish in high-impact journals and the pressure to increase research productivity, sometimes corners are cut, leading to an increase in scientific and other types of misconduct. In this paper, we demonstrate how ethical, and even legal, transgressions within palaeontology, particularly regarding the provenance of fossil specimens, are inherently related to the pressure faced by academic researchers to publish “novel” studies in high-impact journals. We note how papers in high-impact journals follow a consistent theme of either showcasing novel evidence or methods, or describing charismatic or unusual specimens, often dinosaur-related. We examine notable recent examples of these papers that have been linked to ethical and legal problems, which have ironically been brought to light by virtue of the paper being widely publicised as highly “impactful”. Finally, we discuss the importance of developing an ethical framework for scientific publishing, which currently does not exist; only a handful of professional palaeontological bodies, including societies and journals, have independently developed policies to combat these issues. While the culture of “publish or perish” lingers in palaeontology, there will be no incentive for more ethical research that better serves both science and society to prevail.



Paleobiology, Paleontology


publication pressure, research ethics, academia


Published: 2021-06-01 17:58

Last Updated: 2021-06-01 22:16

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International