Publish or perish…?

I just received a copy of The Survival of a Mathematician: From Tenure-Track to Emeritus, by Steven Krantz, to review for MAA Reviews.

I am only two pages in and I have already found something interesting (on p. xiv, to be precise).

It is a hard fact that most American Ph.D. mathematicians write very few papers. According to recent statistics from the American Mathematical Society, of those authors who publish anything at all in their careers:

  • About 43% publish only one paper
  • About 15% publish only two papers
  • About 8% publish only three papers
  • About 75% publish five or fewer papers

Unfortunately, he doesn’t cite the study. I tried looking at the AMS website and couldn’t find it. I’d really like to read more about this study. Who are mathematicians surveyed? Those who earn a Ph.D. who currently teach full time? What constitutes a publication? How do they handle the fact that the data come from mathematicians at different stages of their careers? How does it break down according to type of institution? And the question I most want to know—how many publish zero papers?

If anyone has a link to the survey, please post it in the comments.

Here’s a fun quote that my provost sent me a few years ago (I don’t know who Eric Bach is):

“If ‘publish or perish’ were really true, Leonhard Euler would still be alive.”—Eric Bach

On a related note, I encourage people to volunteer to do reviews for MAA Reviews. They provide a great service to the mathematical community. Plus reviewing for them is a great way to get free books. MAA reviews is run by Fernando Gouvêa.



  1. I second the recommendation on doing reviews for MAA Reviews. I did a couple last year and enjoyed the experience greatly. You do get free copies of the books, and it’s also a nice way to pick up some knowledge about a subject you might be interested in. I reviewed a book on finite fields and another book on elliptic curves and got kind of interested in both subjects as a result. (And at my college, book reviews like this are instances of scholarship for the purposes of promotion and tenure — i.e. another notch in the CV.)

    1. Thanks for the post Robert.

      Your parenthetical remark is a perfect example to illustrate my point—in the survey, would the AMS count a book review a “publication”? At some schools it “counts” while at others it would not.

  2. Lorelei says:

    Hi Dave,

    I think these numbers come from the Erdos project and are statistics based on articles that have appeared in the Mathematical Reviews. See

    Hope things are well!

  3. TwoPi says:

    Eric Bach is at UW-Madison; has a joint appointment in the Math and CS departments.

  4. Thanks, Lorelei. You’re probably right. I’ve seen that page before, but I thought it was all Erdos-related.

  5. Thanks TwoPi! Mystery solved. I asked my Dean where he got that quote and he said he didn’t know where it came from. I think he has a file of cool quotes.

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