How to read a vita

Ugo, a loyal MR reader, asks:

If you were in a tenure committee how
would you evaluate an assistant professor who, among other things, has
two papers in a top journal with the second paper showing that the result
of his/her previous paper is wrong.

(a) Consider this situation has having
two publications in a top journal (the rationale for this is that you want
to give incentives to seek the truth and the two papers contributed to
our understanding of the problem, moreover the author showed to be able
to publish in top JNLs)

(b) Consider this situation as having
one publication in a top journal (same as above, but you recognize that
the contribution is less than two papers with a true result).

(c) Give zero value to the two papers
(because the results cancel each other).

(d) Give negative value to the two papers
(because people wasted time on a wrong result).

The best way to read a vita is to think of it in terms of a portfolio.  If all a person had on his vita was a single paper and then its repudiation, I would not think much of the combination.  If the person is producing a stream of papers, as a whole pointing toward greater knowledge and fleshing out a coherent research program, I would view the revisions and repudiations as a sign of intellectual strength.

Most questions about how to read vitas can be clarified by this portfolio approach.  For instance I am often asked how much a piece in Journal X is worth.  The correct response is to ask whether that publication complements a broader research program or not and then to ask how valuable that research program will be. 


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