Analyzing the publish-or-perish paradigm with game theory: the prisoner's dilemma and a possible escape

T.C. Erren*, D. Shaw, P. Morfeld

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The publish-or-perish paradigm is a prevailing facet of science. We apply game theory to show that, under rather weak assumptions, this publication scenario takes the form of a prisoner’s dilemma, which constitutes a substantial obstacle to beneficial delayed publication of more complete results. One way of avoiding this obstacle while allowing researchers to establish priority of discoveries would be an updated “pli cacheté”, a sealed envelope concept from the 1700s. We describe institutional rules that could additionally favour high-quality work and publications and provide examples of such policies that are already in place. Our analysis should be extended to other publication scenarios and the role of other stakeholders such as scientific journals or sponsors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1431-1446
Number of pages16
JournalScience and Engineering Ethics
Issue number5
Early online date12 Sep 2015
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016


  • Publish-or perish
  • Game theory
  • Prisoner's dilemma
  • Pli cachete
  • Priority
  • Quality

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