Peer review published papers both determine an academics livelihood and status. Therefore, they are incentivized to spend their time doing work they think can be published.
On top of this Academic credit is a first-to-the post system
People and organizations are all playing some game that has different ways of gaining status and power In Academia there are a couple of long term games:
People create proxy games for long term or hard-to-measure games and in academia the entwined proxy games are:
It’s a safer strategy to publish lots of papers than to try to write one super-cited paper because it’s very hard to know which papers will be highly cited. Additionally everybody is impressed when you say “I’ve published a bajillion papers” while only a subgroup might know your super-cited paper by title unless you’ve hit the top of the columnade.
Tenure is based on the number of papers you’ve published and the amount of grant money you’ve brought in. Without tenure, academia is extremely rough. People who don’t think they can get tenure leave universities. National labs and other government research centers are a research alternative to universities.
The peer review and citation system incentivizes people to work on things that other people think is interesting