Shlomi Fish (shlomifish) wrote,
Shlomi Fish

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“Publish or Perish” = “Life or Death”

There is an old adage about the Academic life that reads: “Publish or Perish”. Wikipedia reads:

“Publish or perish” is a phrase coined to describe the pressure in academia to rapidly and continuously publish academic work to sustain or further one's career.

Frequent publication is one of few methods at scholars’ disposal to demonstrate academic talent. Successful publications bring attention to scholars and their sponsoring institutions, which can facilitate continued funding and an individual's progress through their field.

Let’s go a little farther from the “frequent publishing” and just into publishing something in time, and it is evident that a man has two choices:

  1. To publish everything he or she knows and thinks in time, and be completely honest and sincere (without lying, keeping secrets, or even speaking in riddles, but while still keeping some privacy and using tact and wisdom.). ( = "Publish" ).

  2. To keep things to himself or herself, lie, or use other forms of deceit or camouflage, thus resulting in him isolating himself from society and becoming paranoid. (= "Perish" ).

If we look at history, we will see that the most enduring and surviving idea systems were the ones that consistently published: the Greek philosophers, the Jewish scholars, the Muslim scholars of medieval times, the post-Renaissance/post-Printing-press Europeans, the American mass-media / mass-publishing revolution of the 20th century, and the user-generated content Internet of today. Yes, there always was a lot of junk (see Sturgeon’s Law that says that “90% of everything is crap”), and that includes most of the content of the very Tanakh (= Jewish Bible) that many people still consider holy. However, there is always a minority of exceptionally good stuff. (For more insights about that, see Paul Graham’s essays “What Business Can Learn from Open Source” and “Web 2.0”).

It is extremely unlikely that a single man called Aesop told all of the fables that have been attributed to him, and even if (King) David existed, he has not taken all of the actions that he was told to have taken in the Bible, because many such tales were common in the ancient Near East. Instead, they were both ancient memes, and people had no qualms to gradually improve upon them and spice them up.

So you should definitely publish, because keeping your “secrets” or “core competency” for yourself is not only dishonest, but a superbly bad strategy, because you will have little motivation to improve what you did, and other people won’t be able to contribute to it, build upon it, or criticise it.

The biggest offender of the “Publish or Perish → Life or Death” principle I can think of and can relate to is the National Security Agency (NSA), and they now face two options: either publish everything they know promptly —­or alternatively perish.

How do I plan to make them realise that? See my page with NSA “facts” and its links, as well as my latest anti-NSA activism in the form of the informal screenplay Summerschool at the NSA. The latter stars the actresses Sarah Michelle Gellar (of Buffy fame) and Summer Glau (famous for being featured in xkcd #406: “Venting”, and some subsequent xkcd strips) as themselves, and who conspire to slay/terminate/kick-the-ass-of the NSA for good, in a typical David vs. Goliath fashion.

For publishing and therefore life,

Shlomi Fish


This document is Copyright by Shlomi Fish, 2013, and is available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License 3.0 Unported (or at your option any later version of that licence). In addition to that, the author gives an explicit exemption to use the article in sites with web advertising.

For securing additional rights, please contact Shlomi Fish and see the explicit requirements that are being spelt from abiding by that licence.

Tags: buffy, nsa, open, philosophy, xkcd
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