Successful publications bring attention to scholars and their sponsoring institutions, which can help continued funding and career. In popular academic perception, scholars who publish infrequently, or who focus on activities that do not result in publications, such as instructing undergraduates, may lose ground in competition for available tenure-track positions. The pressure to publish has been cited as a cause of poor work being submitted to academic journals. The value of published work is often determined by the prestige of the academic journal it is published in. Journals can be measured by their impact factor (IF), which is the average number of citations to articles published in a particular journal.
The earliest known use of the term in an academic context was in a 1928 journal article. The phrase appeared in a non-academic context in the 1932 book, Archibald Cary Coolidge: Life and Letters, by Harold Jefferson Coolidge. In 1938, the phrase appeared in a college-related publication. According to Eugene Garfield, the expression first appeared in an academic context in Logan Wilson's book, "The Academic Man: A Study in the Sociology of a Profession", published in 1942.
Research-oriented universities may attempt to manage the unhealthy aspects of the publish or perish practices, but their administrators often argue that some pressure to produce cutting-edge research is necessary to motivate scholars early in their careers to focus on research advancement, and learn to balance its achievement with the other responsibilities of the professorial role. The call to abolish tenure is very much a minority opinion in such settings.
This phenomenon has been strongly criticized, the most notable grounds being that the emphasis on publishing may decrease the value of resulting scholarship, as scholars must spend more time scrambling to publish whatever they can get into print, rather than spending time developing significant research agendas. Similarly, humanities scholar Camille Paglia has described the publish or perish paradigm as "tyranny" and further writes that "The [academic] profession has become obsessed with quantity rather than quality. ... One brilliant article should outweigh one mediocre book."
The pressure to publish or perish also detracts from the time and effort professors can devote to teaching undergraduate courses and mentoring graduate students. The rewards for exceptional teaching rarely match the rewards for exceptional research, which encourages faculty to favor the latter whenever they conflict.
Many universities do not focus on teaching ability when they hire new faculty; rather, they emphasize candidates' publications list (and, especially in technology-related areas, the ability to bring in research money). This single-minded focus on the professor as researcher may cause faculty to neglect or be unable to perform some other responsibilities.
Regarding the humanities, teaching and passing on the tradition of Literae Humaniores is given secondary consideration in research universities and treated as a non-scholarly activity.
Also, publish-or-perish is linked to scientific misconduct or at least questionable ethics. It has also been argued that the quality of scientific work has suffered due to publication pressures. Physicist Peter Higgs, namesake of the Higgs boson, was quoted in 2013 as saying that academic expectations since the 1990s would likely have prevented him from both making his groundbreaking research contributions and attaining tenure. "It's difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964," he said. "Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It's as simple as that. I don't think I would be regarded as productive enough."
According to some researchers, the publish or perish culture might also perpetuate bias in academic institutions. Overall, women publish less frequently than men, and when they do publish their work receives fewer citations than their male counterparts, even when it is published in journals with significantly higher impact factors.
The MIT Media Lab's director Nicholas Negroponte instituted the motto "demo or die", privileging demonstrations over publication. Director Joi Ito modified this to "deploy or die", emphasizing the adoption of the technology.