- Laissa Barros
The humanities and social sciences in Brazil are currently experiencing a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, never has so much academic knowledge been produced in our country, especially in the form of articles in scientific journals; on the other hand, we are reading less and less about topics outside our comfortable specialties, and perhaps we have never been so lacking in intellectuals of wide erudition as we are now. The loss of the great Antonio Candido, who left us on the 12th of May, clearly lays bare this paradox. Where are our contemporary Candides? What explains this apparent contradiction? Would it just be a consequence of an inevitable intellectual specialization and the enormous advance of the means of dissemination and storage of information? In part, yes. Currently, becoming an expert in anything requires a Herculean effort to read everything that has been produced and is produced on certain subjects, and to analyze the diverse (and increasingly infinite) primary sources available. However, there is another side to this story, which I believe is equally responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves: the growing and distressing pressure on productivity.
The incentive structure of the Brazilian academy in the humanities and social sciences is totally dependent on quantitative production rates, especially the publication of articles in academic journals, uncritically reproducing structures arising from the exact and natural sciences. For anything we want to do, from applying for research grants to advancing in a professional career, from applying for student grants to maintaining a link in graduate programs, it all comes down to the issue of productivity. Nothing else matters. Class quality, participation in public debates, university extension activities, coordination of study groups became secondary. In the great academic Big Brother that became the Lattes Platform (a public portal for academic curricula in Brazil), professors and students only look at one thing: the number of articles published. Even books (sic) are gaining a reputation for inferior production when compared to “papers”.
This rapid and great change in Brazilian academia, which basically took place in the last two decades, proved that academics in the humanities and social sciences of our country (myself included) respond very well to incentives. In less than a generation, the tendency towards a careful, critical and in-depth reflection of various issues, which resulted in the production of few (but very substantial) intellectual results, especially books, gave way to a frenetic and periodic production of scientific articles, many of them of which the result of research in early stages and that, in several cases, needed more maturation to go to paper. As we don't have time to waste, however, today more important than publishing something relevant is simply publishing. Many go so far as to say that, in order to survive in academia, we have to have a “publishing strategy”. The logic has been inverted: instead of scientific production being the natural result of academic inquiries and concerns (or, if you prefer, of a “research strategy”), the decision to formulate projects and participate in research is becoming more and more common. research centers based on their potential to generate the largest possible amount of publications, regardless of the content. In doing so, using a metaphor formulated by a great colleague, professor Rossana Reis (FFLCH-USP), I have the feeling that we are happily heading towards the gas chamber: the more we produce and the less we reflect on what we are producing. , we are giving more ammunition to those who advocate the uselessness of our functions before society.
This structure of productivist incentives is also laying bare and enhancing practices that are at least questionable in academia – if not unethical. Two emblematic examples are the explosion of co-authorship in scientific texts and the publication of articles in predatory journals (that is, journals that publish anything in exchange for payment). The issue of co-authorship is a very complex issue that would require more space to be properly discussed. Co-authorship in itself is not a problem: on the contrary, given the growing interdisciplinarity and academic specialization, the possibility of publishing works together is a very important mechanism to make certain intellectual endeavors viable. The problem is the spread of the practice (very difficult to prove, but which everyone knows is happening, and with increasing intensity) of phantom co-authorship. That is, academics who contributed little or nothing to the production of a particular article appear as authors of these works, either due to an exchange of favors (I put your name in my article and you put my name in yours), or because of asymmetry. of power (patrimonialism, clientelism and the mentor-mentor domination relationship).
The phenomenon of publications between supervisor and supervisee, in particular, constitutes a very serious problem. Again: there is no problem with supervisors and mentees writing an article together. The point is that it is becoming normal for supervisors to put their names in articles by supervisees just because they have supervised these works – something that, at least in the human and social sciences, has never been current practice. If the fundamental prerequisite for obtaining the title of master or doctor is the fact that candidates are able to present an individual work to the scientific community, how can it be explained by the fact that, magically, articles, direct results of theses and dissertations appear (in in progress or completed), with the name of the advisee and the adviser as co-authors? One of two things: either the advisee did not do the work alone – and, therefore, the defense of the thesis or dissertation would have constituted a fraud –, or the adviser put his name in the student’s article without actually being the author, which amounts to ghost co-authorship.
As serious as unethical co-authoring practices is the spread of paid publications in international journals. Under the false justification that charging fees would guarantee open access to articles – something that, in fact, occurs with reputable journals in the exact and natural sciences, but not in the human and social sciences –, some international journals publish anything , literally, in exchange for money. To encourage as many submissions as possible in all areas of knowledge, many of these journals have the broadest, most empty and bizarre titles possible, such as International Review of Basic and Applied Sciences, International Review of Social Sciences and Humanities , and InternationalScience and InvestigationJournal (A recent list of top predatory publishers and magazines can be found here: http://beallslist.weebly.com). The productivist and pro-internationalization eagerness has been pushing some academics to seek this type of publication, even knowing that such journals and publishers will necessarily be poorly classified by federal educational bodies, such as CAPES. The thinking is: better to publish something, even in predatory magazines, even more so if it's in English, than not to publish at all. As a consolation for the many, many in academia who are forced to live with these practices and are outraged by the fact that these unethical actions often yield results (scholarships, prestige, positions, power), let us remember that every publication remains for posterity. . Time is the best judge to crush the reputation of unscrupulous academics.
We have all the conditions to produce new and new Antonios Candidos, Celsos Furtados, Florestans Fernandes and Darcys Ribeiros, but this will not be possible if we continue on the same path. We urgently need to debate alternative (and necessary) ways of being accountable to society and the scientific community that are not simply based on the quantitative production of articles. Regaining freedom, tranquility and time for thought must be our main banner. May the loss of Antonio Candido encourage us to reflect on new paths.
*Felipe Loureiro is a Professor, Institute of International Relations, USP