Take, for example, Michael McAleer. He is an Australian econometrician who had a very respectable career in the 1980's, publishing in the AER with Adrian Pagan (and a homophone of Paul A. Volcker), four Review of Economic Statistics, a Review of Economic Studies, an Economic Journal and plenty of other decent publications. McAleer get elected into the Academy of Social Science in Australia in 1996. Then the quality of the publications dips, as he must be facing the same loss in productivity so many in the profession suffer in their forties. Still a good stream of publications.
Then suddenly, a burst of historic proportions.
Let us first look at working papers. According to his RePEc page (that is all I could find, a 2004 CV has 32 pages despite having no publications listed): 12 in 2008, 45 in 2010, 39 in 2010, and so far 15 in 2011. And these are according to their titles, at least, distinct papers. How can one do this? First McAleer has many co-authors, but he is no Paul Erdős, as his has a small set of regular collaborators. Second, many of the papers are about the same theme, with small variations: journal impact, with applications to neuroscience, tourism studies, econometrics, and economics in general, including one that I discussed. There is nothing wrong with this, except that entire sections are copy-and-pasted from one paper to the next. His other papers, for example on tourism demand in the Far East, are incredibly thin slices of research.
But these are all working papers, and he is free to write all this as long as he does not pretend this is all original and substantially new work when submitting to journals that have such requirements. McAleer is, however, also publishing avidly, although luckily few of the papers mentioned above get placed, and then only poorly. In terms of publishing, he has found another niche, the Journal of Economic Surveys:
- 2011, issue 2: 1 article
- 2011, issue 1: 2 articles
- 2010, issue 1: 2 articles
- 2009, issue 5: 2 articles
- 2007, issue 5: 1 article
- 2006, issue 4: 3 articles
- 2005, issue 5: 1 article
The journal has 5 issues a year, averaging 7 articles in each issue. That is a remarkable publishing success in a generalist journal. It turns out frequent co-author Les Oxley is the editor, who himself does not hesitate to frequently publish in his own journal. I counted 17 articles of non-editorial nature, several over 60 pages long, as well as 7 reports on conferences he attended.
A good number of those articles are titled "The Ten Commandments of ...", which I find rather pretentious. I was curious about The Ten Commandments for Academics, which could reveal some of the motivations of McAleer. They are:
- choose intellectual reward over money;
- seek wisdom over tenure;
- protect freedom of speech and thought vigorously;
- defend and respect intellectual quests passionately;
- embrace the challenge of teaching undergraduate students;
- acknowledge the enjoyment in supervising graduate students;
- be generous with office hours;
- use vacation time wisely;
- attend excellent conferences at great locations;
- age gracefully like great wine.
What I find interesting here is what was not considered. I think a better alternative, and one that would condemn much of what McAleer is doing, are due to Wesley Shrum:
- Thou shalt not work for deadlines;
- Thou shalt not accept prizes or awards;
- Honor thy forebears and colleagues regardless of status;
- Thou shalt not compete for recognition;
- Thou shalt not concern thyself with money;
- Thou shalt not seek to influence students but to convey your understandings and be honest about your ignorance;
- Thou shalt not require class attendance or emphasize testing;
- Thou shalt not worry about thy own intelligence or aspire to display it;
- Thou shalt not condemn those with different perspectives;
- SEEK TO UNDERSTAND THE WORLD.
These are principles about integrity, about changing the world and putting the scientific interest ahead of oneself. McAleer, rather, seems keen on clogging journals and working paper series with useless drivel, showing off and self-plagiarizing. At least for the latter part of his career, I do not see a positive externality from his efforts.
To come back to my initial question, to be prolific: find willing co-authors and editors, slice thinly, copy-and-paste, and do not think too hard what academia is about.