In Scienc (in an article about GREs as a less than useful tool for predicting success) we have:
can objective measures such as numbers of publications do any better at spotting true intellectual promise among faculty candidates? Not according to physicist Peter Higgs, whose work on subatomic particles in the 1960s inspired the long but ultimately successful hunt for the eponymous Higgs boson. As he told The Guardian in 2013, while traveling to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics, for years he had been “an embarrassment to [his] department when they did research assessment exercises.” With fewer than 10 papers published since this 1964 breakthrough, he often responded to departmental requests for lists of recent publications with a simple reply: “None.” Given today’s requirement to publish frequently, he added, “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. … 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.”
Then there’s mathematician Yitang “Tom” Zhang, who was completely unknown—as in zero peer-reviewed publications and an adjunct teaching job—when, in 2013, at the age of 57 and 12 years out from receiving his Ph.D., he submitted a paper that astounded the mathematical world by solving a long-standing problem in number theory. Now hailed as a “genius” and a “celebrity,” he has since that triumph received numerous major prizes and appointments to two professorships, first at the University of New Hampshire and then UC Santa Barbara.
So we've got two guys who didn't publish a lot, and were eventually considered "geniuses". Does this mean that all people who don't publish a lot are geniuses? Of course not. This only falsifies the statement that "if you don't publish, you are not (or cannot be) good". Nor does it have anything to say about people who do publish a lot. We are back to type I and type II errors, and what do departments and search committees and tenure committees want to guard against.
If, of low-publishing people, 1 in 100 is a Nobel laureate material, and the other 99 are pikers, is it worth hiring or tenuring one person who hasn't who doesn't publish in the hopes that they solve The Problem? In medical terminology, know the existence of one zebra when you hear hoof beats, does that mean that you should expect the next 10 or so to be zebras, or just plain horses? What is the risk in making the wrong decision? Is the 1 in 10000 chance of losing the genius worth the 99.99% chance that you are tenuring something who will not carry their weight in the department?
I remember when I was younger, back in the mid-Oligocene, that we had lots of "dead weight" in the department. These were people who fit the early/external pattern of Prof Higgs. They were tenured, they had had one grant in the Jurassic, and came in to teach one class a term, whether they had to or not. They hadn't written a grant proposal in years, and maybe churned out one paper every other year. I was furious because they sat in judgment of the junior faculty, assessing the quality ("not quite there") of research they couldn't be bothered to do. I remember what it was like to have people who thought they might, someday, become Dr. Zhang, but just couldn't be bothered right now.
I go back and read the quotes from Prof Higgs and I am struck by the sheer arrogance of his position. The entitlement that permits him to think that a department with standards, standards to which he might be held, would somehow inhibit his creativity.
I won't defend the current pace, nor the current obsession with funding. I've seen too many good people, working people, people who are Good Scientists (is the Nobel how we want to judge science, anyway?), chewed up by the system and spat out.
But as always, there is something between an endless, highspeed treadmill and waiting 20 years to publish. There needs to be room, in our science departments, our research communities for all kinds of people. But those people also need to understand that tenure isn't a ticket to endless coffee breaks, either.