How useful are peer-reviewed journals?

What purpose are peer-reviewed journals if nobody reads them? According to Biswas and Kirchherr (2015), less than 20 percent of peer-reviewed articles are even cited, much less read. If less than 20 percent of these articles aren’t even used to support the arguments of others, then why are more than 80 percent even being written? It certainly isn’t for the benefit of educating the masses. As Biswas and Kirchherr (2015) point out, the language used in these articles are too difficult for many practitioners and journalists. Furthermore, the articles are too long, even for government leaders and decision-makers (Biswas & Kirchherr, 2015). These factors would certainly rule out the average citizen.

Image of journals. Retrieved from
Image of journals. Retrieved from

“We know of no senior policy-maker, or senior business leader who ever reads any peer-reviewed papers, even in recognized journals like Nature, Science or The Lancet” (Biswas & Kirchherr, 2015). If policy makers and government are not willing to read these articles, then it is imperative that average citizens read them. No matter how thorough, unbiased, or thought-provoking is the research being reported, if the average citizen can’t or won’t read the article, the time spent on the research is of no use to society. Society doesn’t change because of a collection of peer-reviewed articles.

I believe that the time has come to value the work that is actually being read, and not just count the number of articles published in peer-reviewed journals. Biswas and Kirchherr (2015) also believe that the number of published articles should not be used to determine the success of an academic. Academia needs to re-assess its purpose and ensure that value is given to those that have an effect on public consciousness.


Biswas, A., & Kirchherr, J. (2015, April 9). Citations are not enough: Academic promotion panels must take into account a scholar’s presence in popular media. [Web log post].


  1. Thanks for the post, Martha. You’re raising a very valid concern here. It begs the question whether the purpose of publishing journal articles is in their production rather than their consumption. Perhaps there’s more to the matter than the measure of an academic equating to the amount they’ve published, which as you allude to quickly becomes political. Maybe, though, it’s the research process that the author has had to undertake in order to publish that is at the heart of the real value of publishing. It’s possible the purpose is as much to demonstrate an ability to perform quality work in the field. That would, in part, help to explain why the rate of research produced far exceeds that which is consumed. Just a thought…

    1. Good points, Brian. I think quality of work in one’s field could be demonstrated in ways other than being published. I’m looking forward to academia opening up to the world via digital media (blogging,, etc). I think this may help increase the consumption. If readers use critical analysis, the quality will not be jeopardized. We can still have “peer-review” occurring in the blogging world. Comments help provide a way to critically review a blog, challenge thinking, and provide different perspectives. Readers benefit immensely because they do not see just the final version. Rather, they are able to read the discourse around the topic. I think this would be even more valuable than just the final draft. And possibly be more attractive, which would increase consumption of the material.

  2. I wonder if any research has been done on the types of research and published studies that are most cited and read. Specifically, what about them makes them receive more attention than others. I would imagine there is lots of amazing research being done on a variety of important issues that never makes it into a ‘most cited list.’ The pessimist in me wants to say that funding sources, marketing and who knows who has a lot to do with it. The optimist in me hopes that it isn’t the case.

    1. That’s an interesting question. It might be worthwhile to conduct such a research. Could be a research topic (possibly)! I agree with you that likely the “who knows who” has a lot to do with who gets cited. Politics raises its ugly head in academia circles and, I’m quite sure, has a lot of influence on who gets published and who reviews whose work. I’d like to think it’s not one of the strongest factors, but I can’t even get the “Pollyanna” in me to argue the point. I try to find articles that are less well known just in attempt to bring attention to it. I use my blogs to help highlight someone’s work that hasn’t been highlighted much. It’s not much and not many people read my blogs (I’m pretty small potatoes in the blogging realm) but it makes me feel good. I hope others do that for me, too (when I have something worth citing).

  3. This is a great blog topic, Martha. It amazed me to learn two things: first that the value of an academic lies in how often they are published, and second, how rarely published articles are read. It seems to me that a lot of time and money are being spent on research projects, while very little is being done with the information. It makes me realize that our research papers really will be just for us. We can’t hope to rectify some wrong in the world; instead, we can hope to further understand a tiny part of something that interests us. I agree that more value needs to be placed on all of this research being completed all over the world. I bet there are some real gems of knowledge in those papers that remain undiscovered. Waiting 11 years for your work to be recognized and applauded is certainly a labour of love, rather than a plight to make quick, major advancements in a particular field.

    1. I agree, Rhonda. Unfortunately, I think that those that are read are by the better known academics. And those that are not as well known probably have a lot of gems to offer that very few people ever appreciate. Even if our research doesn’t change the world or make sweeping advancements, research needs to be offered to the world in such a way that others can access the knowledge and add to the discussions. Research and knowledge should not be kept within a select group of people. I have always said that knowledge does not belong in the hallowed halls of institutions. It belongs on the streets, in the alleys, on the playgrounds, over backyard fences and around kitchen tables.

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