Saturday, August 18, 2012

In praise of publons

A publon is a "quantum" of publication. It is the least publishable unit of research.

I have found this to be a very helpful concept in doing and supervising research and deciding what and when to publish. The basic idea is that once you have a result that is publishable [a new equation or measurement or graph or numerical result] for a specific research project one should start to prepare a paper around it. Large projects can be broken down into publons. I first really took on board the concept after reading Peter Feibelman's A Ph.D is not enough. 

The advantages are

-research and publication can much more manageable

-it avoids procrastination, particularly by perfectionists who always want to get one more result...

-it placates the "bean counters" who expect quick results and large numbers of papers

-papers should have a single message and not several. publons prevent that single message being diluted or distracted from

-it can be helpful in building confidence and momentum in new situations: a new project, a new institution, a new position, a new student, or a new postdoc....

The disadvantages/dangers are

-results are published too quickly before they have been checked, compared to other methods, or for other systems.

-peoples publication list becomes inflated.

-too many short and superficial papers are published

-it is pandering to the "bean counters".


  1. I refer to "publons" as LPUs or Least Publishable Units.

  2. Thanks for Gauss' perspective. According to the Wikipedia entry:

    Mathematical historian Eric Temple Bell estimated that, had Gauss published all of his discoveries in a timely manner, he would have advanced mathematics by fifty years