In recent weeks I've been on a committee that selects a recipient for one of the highest awards in a field related to my own, and it's been very interesting to observe the dynamics of the committee and also to reflect on the careers of the very successful nominees for the award. I suppose I am a "diversity" member of the committee. No woman has ever won this award, and I think only one has ever even been nominated. Many other members of the committee are past winners of the award, so as you might imagine, their opinions carry a lot of weight. And then there's me.
It will surprise no one that recipients of the award tend to have vast numbers of papers, even if the total is inflated by lots of Least Publishable Unit (LPU) papers such as "Results of My Experiments with Material X", followed by "Results of the Same Experiments with Material Y", and let's not forget the papers with multiple parts, like "Part I: My Data" and "Part II: Now I Am Going to Think About my Data."
And then there is the phenomenon of giving someone an award because he got some other awards which he got because he got some other awards and so on to infinity. Even if the early awards were well deserved, it's surprising how long you can coast on that without doing anything more creative than edit books of other people's original articles (a useful and necessary thing to do, I admit).
This recent committee was quite divided between one group that wanted to award someone with a War-And-Peace length CV with some important papers and a fair number of LPU's, and another group that favored someone who had fewer papers, but a large number of his papers were creative and had a high impact on the field. That is of course not an objective description, and it reveals what my (losing) choice was.
Many of us know colleagues who "shingle" publications by publishing more than one paper on something that probably could be just one paper, and often this practice is spoken of with contempt. Yet, publishing LPU's clearly hasn't harmed some prominent people. You wouldn't be able to get a job today if you had a CV full of LPU's and shingled papers, and you most likely wouldn't get promoted either. But perhaps there is some point at which the shear number of papers starts to impress people. I don't completely understand this phenomenon.
Is this another depressing and cynical post? I guess, but I will say that I am at least slightly optimistic that these old-style committees, awards, and such will change in the not-so-distant future.
6 months ago