Posted on behalf of Zoë Corbyn
There have been some radical suggestions to increase citation counts of late but heavy drinking would probably rank at the bottom of most researchers’ lists.
Yet a new study has found that the world’s most highly cited ecologists and environmental scientists typically consume more than double the amount imbibed by the general population.
Published in the October issue of Scientometrics, John Parker, a post-doctoral sociologist at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and colleagues report the results of a survey of the drinking habits of 124 of the most highly cited researchers in ecology and environmental science: the vast majority men aged between 50 and 70 based in either North America or Western Europe.
The results reveal that consumption for this group averages around 7 alcoholic beverages per week, about 2.5 drinks over the weekly consumption of the average American. Though a fifth of the group does not drink, more than half consume 10 or more alcoholic beverages a week, 20% consume 12 or more and 10% consumer 21 or more. The largest consumer downed 31 per week.
The researchers are quick to point out the obvious – correlation does not equal causation. “We are definitely not saying ‘drink more to do better’,” Parker stresses. But he does believe that more and better information is needed to unravel the observed relationship and the “non-scientific activities that affect scientific productivity”.
The results support the positive association between national per capita beer consumption and a country’s citations per paper reported in a 2009 paper by Canadian ecologist Christopher Lortie, who collaborated with Parker on the current paper.
But they stand in contrast to a 2008 survey of Czech ecologists by Thomas Grim, also an ecologist. Grim, based at Palacky University in the Czech Republic, found the opposite: that increased levels of beer consumption were associated with lower numbers of citations.
“Because of well documented negative and causal effects of ethanol, independently of dose, on both mental performance and health, I find it unlikely that the Parker et al. finding reflects more than a spurious relationship,” Grim told Nature News.
Eminent Oxford ecologist Bob May – a lifelong teetotaller – also said he did not recognise Parker’s picture. “My experience is that my ecologist friends are not at all heavy drinkers.”
Michael Hochberg from the University of Montpellier in France speculated on why – if this were so – highly cited researchers might be pushed to drink more. They might attend more functions, be more “stressed out”, or they may just be “past their heyday and drowning their sorrows”, he suggested.
Image: a drink, photo by Mike McCune via Flickr under creative commons.