Xmas Workaholism among Scientists

A remarkable letter in today’s correspondence section of Nature. For some odd reason, a group of scientists from Oxford and the National University of Singapore thought it would be a good idea to investigate the level of research activity of scientists during the holidays.

In order to find out how many submissions were made to academic journals on Christmas Day between 1996 and 2006, Richard Ladle, Ana Malhado and Peter Todd searched Google Scholar for articles received on 25 December. Even taking into account the overall increase in the volume of submissions, there were about 600% more manuscripts received by journals on 25 December in 2006 than in 1996.


Proportion of published papers submitted on 25 December relative to mean number submitted on the 25th of the month (excluding weekends) for all other months in that calendar year. R2 = 0.69.

The authors suggest four potential reasons for this move towards seasonal workaholism among scientists:

We are collectively falling victim to the ‘publish or perish’ institutional culture, in which our professional success depends almost exclusively on our publication record.

The pressure on scientists to publish is paralleled by an increase in their administrative and teaching workloads. This pushes research and, in particular, writing into vacation periods.

With the wide-scale implementation of electronic submission systems in the late 1990s, most journals are now ‘open for business’ every day of the year.

Although Christmas Day seems to be an ideal opportunity to get on with some blissfully uninterrupted research, we would urge our fellow scientists to keep their laptops turned off and enjoy a bit of Christmas spirit. You never know, Santa might then be more inclined to bring you that most popular of presents — a paper published in Nature!

[Richard J. Ladle, Ana C. M. Malhado & Peter A. Todd. Come all ye scientists, busy and exhausted. O come ye, O come ye, out of the lab. Nature 450, 1156 (20 December 2007)]

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