Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 1431–1446

Analyzing the Publish-or-Perish Paradigm with Game Theory: The Prisoner’s Dilemma and a Possible Escape

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11948-015-9701-x

Cite this article as:
Erren, T.C., Shaw, D.M. & Morfeld, P. Sci Eng Ethics (2016) 22: 1431. doi:10.1007/s11948-015-9701-x


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.


Publish-or perish Game theory Prisoner’s dilemma Pli cacheté Priority Quality 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute and Policlinic for Occupational Medicine, Environmental Medicine and Prevention ResearchUniversity of CologneCologneGermany
  2. 2.Institute for Biomedical EthicsUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland
  3. 3.Institute for Occupational Epidemiology and Risk Assessment (IERA)Evonik Industries AGEssenGermany

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