How to write a high impact paper

Academics, in the UK at least, are being encouraged to write papers with `impact’. There is some discussion about what exactly `impact’ means, but these seem to be two papers which can reasonably claim to have had some:

  1. a paper in one of the world’s leading journals, cited 1730 times in fifteen years (according to Google Scholar), which described a previously unknown phenomenon, and led to a massive change in public behaviour.
  2. a paper cited 543 times in three years, which led to changes in government policy world-wide, with far-reaching societal effects.

Paper 1 is Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent Lancet work which found that the MMR vaccine can cause autism. As a result, vaccination rates fell as low as 80% in the UK, with predictable results.

Paper 2 is Reinhart and Rogoff’s paper claiming that government debt above 90% of GDP slows economic growth. The authors made an error in Excel (using it was their first mistake) which led to them leaving out data which contradicted their conclusion. Governments have used this paper to justify their cutting of public services, on which many people depend, with predictable results.

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One Comment on “How to write a high impact paper”

  1. […] value for their own sake. It means defending academic inquiry from the pressure to demonstrate `impact‘, `return’ or any other spurious monetary measure. It means academics defending their […]


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