The equilibrium in which academia operates is not optimal. It does not look right. The incentives seem to be wrong.
Academic careers are mainly determined by publications. Most of the time all that matters is the number of papers. An idea is considered good if it is rapidly publishable. In a university, fast and furious research is king, teaching is torture.
This has several repercussions, such as retractions and borderline fraudulent practice. A race for a purely higher number of publications in fields like medicine might have disastrous consequences.
Things could be different.
First of all, teaching could determine a larger portion of one’s future prospects (with respect to what it currently accounts for). And not only the quantity of teaching, but also it’s quality. Instructors would then care deeply about how best to deliver their knowledge. There could be more teaching conferences. In graduate schools, we attend classes like “research methods,” but never “teaching methods.”
Most probably, an average academic has more students than readers of his/her research. Research has a very limited readership and it is highly impersonal. Teaching is contagious. A more balanced approach is needed. Colin Macilwain (Nature) and Paul Basken (The Chronicle of Higher Education) discuss in detail how that balance could be reached or easily disrupted by funding policies.
Finally, research should be slow. It should possibly feature bigger projects with higher impact. It should be high risk, high return. And when there is no return, it shouldn’t matter much. The important thing should be to dive in an issue and catch the biggest fish possible.
The question shouldn’t be “is this publishable?”
It ought to be “is this important?”