ONE thing that determines how quickly a researcher climbs the academic ladder is his publication record. The quality of this clearly matters—but so does its quantity. A long list of papers attached to a job application tends to impress appointment committees, and the resulting pressure to churn out a steady stream of articles in peer-reviewed journals often leads to the splitting of results from a single study into several “minimum publishable units”, to the unnecessary duplication of studies and to the favouring of work that is scientifically trivial but easy to publish.
There is another way to pad publication lists: co-authoring. Say you write one paper a year. If you team up with a colleague doing similar work and write two half-papers instead, both parties end up with their names on twice as many papers, but with no increase in workload. Find a third researcher to join in and you can get your name on three papers a year. And so on.
To investigate the matter, The Economist reviewed data on more than 34m research papers published between 1996 and 2015 in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. These were drawn from Scopus, the world’s biggest catalogue of abstracts and citations of papers, which is owned by RELX Group, a publisher and information company.
Over the period in question, the average number of authors per paper grew from 3.2 to 4.4. At the same time, the number of papers divided by the number of authors who published in a given year (essentially, the average author’s overall paper-writing contribution) fell from 0.64 to 0.51. The boom in co-authorship more than compensated for the drop in individual productivity, so that the average researcher notched up a slightly higher number of papers for his curriculum vitae: 2.3 a year compared to 2.1 two decades earlier.
One particular trend behind these numbers is the rise of “guest authorship”, in which a luminary, such as the director of a research centre, is tagged on as an author simply as a nod to his position or in the hope that this signals a study of high quality. That can lead to some researchers becoming improbably prolific. For example, between 2013 and 2015 the 100 most published authors in physics and astronomy from American research centres had an average of 311 papers each to their names. The corresponding figure for medicine, though lower, was still 180. Figures for British universities are more modest but similarly striking. The top century of physicists and astronomers averaged 280 papers each; the top century of doctors, 139 papers. Indeed, it is so easy to add a co-author that some have honoured their pets. Sir Andre Geim, who won the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics, listed H.A.M.S. ter Tisha as co-author of a paper he published in 2001 in Physica B, a peer-reviewed journal.
Another trend is that the meaning of authorship in massive science projects is getting fuzzier. Particle physics and genomics, both of which often involve huge transnational teams, are particularly guilty here. A paper on the Higgs boson published in 2015 in Physical Review Letters holds the record, with 5,154 co-authors (listed on 24 of the paper’s 33 pages). It reported on the mass of the boson, a fundamental particle studied in experiments conducted in the giant—and heavily staffed—Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. A genomics paper on Drosophila, a much-studied fruitfly, also published in 2015, has 1,014 authors, most of them students who helped with various coding tasks. Such studies are paragons of scientific collaboration and the exact opposite of creating minimum publishable units. But they list as authors people who have contributed only marginally to the success of the project—roles that, in the past, were simply acknowledged in a thanks-to-all sentence but are now the bricks from which careers may be built.
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Are you searching for a great topic for your psychology paper? Sometimes it seems like coming up with a good idea for a paper is more challenging than the actual research and writing. Fortunately, there are plenty of great places to find inspiration and the following list contains just a few ideas to help get you started.
Finding a solid topic is one of the most important steps when writing any type of paper. It can be particularly important when you are writing a psychology research paper or essay. Psychology is such a broad topic, so you want to find a topic that allows you to adequately cover the subject without becoming overwhelmed with information.
As you begin your search for a topic for your psychology paper, it is first important to consider the guidelines established by your instructor. In some cases, such as in a general psychology class, you might have had the option to select any topic from within psychology's broad reaches. Other instances, such as in an abnormal psychology course, might require you to write your paper on a specific subject such as a psychological disorder.
Focus on a Topic Within a Particular Branch of Psychology
The key to selecting a good topic for your psychology paper is to select something that is narrow enough to allow you to really focus on the subject, but not so narrow that it is difficult to find sources or information to write about.
One approach is to narrow your focus down to a subject within a specific branch of psychology. For example, you might start by deciding that you want to write a paper on some sort of social psychology topic. Next, you might narrow your focus down to how persuasion can be used to influence behavior.
Other social psychology topics you might consider include:
Write About a Disorder or Type of Therapy
Exploring a psychological disorder or a specific treatment modality can also be a good topic for a psychology paper. Some potential abnormal psychology topics include specific psychological disorders or particular treatment modalities, including:
Choose a Topic Related to Human Cognition
Some of the possible topics you might explore in this area include thinking, language, intelligence, and decision-making. Other ideas might include:
Consider a Topic Related to Human Development
In this area, you might opt to focus on issues pertinent to early childhood such as language development, social learning, or childhood attachment or you might instead opt to concentrate on issues that affect older adults such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Some other topics you might consider include:
Critique a Book or Academic Journal Article
One option is to consider writing a psychology critique paper of a published psychology book or academic journal article. For example, you might write a critical analysis of Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams or you might evaluate a more recent book such as Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.
Professional and academic journals are also a great place to find materials for a critique paper. Browse through the collection at your university library to find titles devoted to the subject that you are most interested in, then look through recent articles until you find what that grabs your attention.
Analyze a Famous Experiment
There have been many fascinating and groundbreaking experiments throughout the history of psychology, providing ample material for students looking for an interesting term paper topic. In your paper, you might choose to summarize the experiment, analyze the ethics of the research, or evaluate the implications of the study. Possible experiments that you might consider include:
Write a Paper About a Historical Figure
One of the simplest ways to find a great topic is to choose an interesting person in the history of psychology and write a paper about them. Your paper might focus on many different elements of the individual's life, such as their biography, professional history, theories, or influence on psychology.
While this type of paper may be historical in nature, there is no need for this assignment to be dry or boring. Psychology is full of fascinating figures rife with intriguing stories and anecdotes. Consider such famous individuals as Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, Harry Harlow, or one of the many other eminent psychologists.
Write About a Specific Psychology Career
Another possible topic, depending on the course in which you are enrolled, is to write about specific career paths within the field of psychology. This type of paper is especially appropriate if you are exploring different subtopics or considering which area interests you the most. In your paper, you might opt to explore the typical duties of a psychologist, how much people working in these fields typically earn, and different employment options that are available.
Create a Case Study of an Individual or Group of People
One potentially interesting idea is to write a psychology case study of a particular individual or group of people. In this type of paper, you will provide an in depth analysis of your subject, including a thorough biography. Generally, you will also assess the person, often using a major psychological theory such as Piaget's stages of cognitive development or Erikson's eight-stage theory of human development. It is also important to note that your paper doesn't necessarily have to be about someone you know personally. In fact, many professors encourage students to write case studies on historical figures or fictional characters from books, television programs, or films.
Conduct a Literature Review