Commentary | The death of tourism scholarship… unless… | Lee & Benjamin

Kai-Sean Lee, Stefanie Benjamin, The death of tourism scholarship… unless…, Annals of Tourism Research, Volume 98, 2023, 103520, ISSN 0160-7383.

“Our graduate students need to publish more,” says Professor Publish. “If they want to compete in today’s higher education job market, they will need at least three publications by graduation, maybe five to be safe.”

“Three to five? Ha!” Professor Perish laughs aside Professor Publish’s remarks. “I’d say they’d need seven or eight. Have you seen the CVs of today’s applicant pool? I don’t think three-to-five articles would even make it through the first recruitment

A mysterious figure sitting in the back of the meeting room frowns in disappointment. “Good papers, like good wine, require good time,” she quotes a line from David Fennell’s (2013) The Ethics of Excellence in Tourism Research (p. 424). “We are perpetuating the toxic publishing cycle where quantity trumps quality… This will mark the death of tourism scholarship… unless…”

Our opening dialogue represents a fictionalized roundtable discussion during a graduate faculty meeting. The conversation eventually led to an expectation increase imposed upon the department’s graduate students: new research milestones were introduced and old ones were refined, all with the central purpose to help students achieve one thing: to publish more.

Academic publishing within the discipline of tourism is becoming a dire situation. In a recent viewpoint published in the Annals, Bob McKercher and Sara Dolnicar (2022) reported that in 2021 alone, 10,752 articles were published in tourism, hospitality, and events. The report exposed some worrying signs, including some journals carrying abnormally high article acceptance rates (e.g., ≥70%) and that predatory journals were increasing in problematic numbers. The scholars contended that in today’s publishing market, even articles with frail quality may make it through the cracks of publishing as long as one persists and shops around the journal market long enough. Thus, McKercher and Dolnicar (2022) posed several reflective questions for tourism scholars to ponder including: “are we publishing too many articles?” (p. 2) and “are we publishing with the right purpose, that is, to advance tourism knowledge in impactful and insightful ways?” (p. 2, paraphrased).

McKercher and Dolnicar’s (2022) viewpoint moved us. As two graduate faculty members and doctoral student advisors, we feel responsible for our graduate students’ successes, especially when it pertains to job placement after graduation. We agree that research outcomes are important indicators for job readiness. However, should publication outcomes come at the expense of students’ learning, growth, and mental health (Benjamin et al., 2017)? Quality research requires quality time in thinking and reflection. Moreover, quality thinking and reflection requires an adequate incubatory phase of consumption and digestion before comprehension. If a graduate program’s response to the changing academic job market is to simply increase research publication expectations, what would that mean for novice doctoral students who are new to research and the academic world? Have we as advisors and academic institutions prioritized our graduate students’ publication outcomes over our students’ ability to identify real-world problems, raise critical questions, and contribute to society beyond authorship? Have we perpetuated a culture that prioritizes quantity over quality? Have we done a disservice to our students, ourselves, and our discipline?

With 10,572 articles published alone in 2021 and the pace of academic publishing accelerating at an unyielding pace, what we and our students face today is the deflation of academic knowledge. We fear that research would soon be reduced down to nothing but mere currency for post-doctoral-degree job placement, annual reviews and promotion for existing faculty members, and academic department leaders pursuing university prestige without proper impact to our communities and society (Staller, 2022). Consequently, the purpose of engaging in research will only continue to tarnish, ultimately perpetuating the toxic culture of productivity and capitalism—core values of the corporate university (Berg & Seeber, 2016Fennell, 2013Salo & Heikkinen, 2018). As two graduate faculty members worried for our student research outcomes, and not to mention, our own publishing pressures, we must look at ourselves and ponder whether we are part of the publish or perish problem. This may mark the death of tourism scholarship… unless we do something about it.

In this viewpoint, we offer a response to McKercher and Dolnicar’s (2022) research note by exposing the disturbing reality of academic publishing and how it is detrimental to tourism scholarship. We begin with a brief discussion about the origin of the “publish or perish” phrase and how the phrase fosters a toxic and problematic culture of quantity over quality. We also review literature about the questionable practices that academics adopt to cope with the rising expectations and how such coping practices would mark the eventual death of our scholarship. Lastly, we advocate for scholars to join forces for a direly needed change and outline the necessary steps to make the change happen.

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