Impact factors — RCUK provides a chance to act | Reciprocal Space 2013-03-15


"I had no idea when I clicked ‘publish’ last August that my ‘Sick of Impact Factors’ post would unleash such a huge response. Evidently I had pulled on a chain that everyone feels bound by. The post attracted over 180 comments and tens of thousands of page views. It is still getting over 2000 hits a month. As I wrote in that post (and elsewhere), the abuse of journal impact factors (IFs) in the assessment of scientists applying for jobs, promotion or funding is a deep-seated and largely self-inflicted problem. It is retarding the uptake of open access, because the addictive lure of IFs inhibits some authors from choosing new OA journals and allows ‘high-impact’ journals to lever higher article processing charges (APC) from those paying for gold OA. The response to the blogpost has been very gratifying but will ultimately be worthless if it cannot be harnessed to make the necessary shift away from a culture of dependency on impact factors. It seems to have influenced the thinking of at least one journal. Nature Materials cited my post in an editorial last month that warned its readers of the dangers of using IFs as a guide to the performance of individual researchers. I was pleased also to see that the journal’s Instructions to Authors now links to this editorial. That’s a start and I very much hope other journals will follow this fine example. But for the shift to take hold we also need influential players such as universities and funding agencies to publicly disavow the use of impact factors in the assessment of individuals. We should not underestimate how long this might take. In guidelines for the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which is currently gathering information on outputs to assess the quality of UK research, HEFCE has stated clearly that journal impact factors will not be used by its judging panels. However, there remains widespread distrust in the research community that this will actually happen. An informal survey of departmental practices around the country by Dr Jenny Rohn found that many are looking at IFs when deciding which of their researchers’ publications to submit to the REF. Clearly, old habits die hard. But now there is a new opportunity to hammer one more nail into the impact factor coffin. On 6th March RCUK, the body that oversees the UK research councils, issued updated guidance on its new open access policy, which is due to take effect on 1st April this year. This policy has been much debated but I don’t want to rehearse those arguments again today. Instead I want to focus on a key point relating to impact factors. While their OA policy indicates RCUK’s preference for immediate access funded by APC payments (gold OA), RCUK-funded authors can alternatively meet their obligations by depositing their final peer-reviewed manuscript in an institutional repository (green OA). The guidelines (PDF) seek to clarify the flexibility that is available to researchers in deciding which route to follow, which may well affect the particular journals that they should choose and that inevitably raises the question of impact factors. The guidelines make it abundantly clear that the 'choice of route to Open Access remains with the author and their research organisation' but how that plays out in terms of journal choices on the ground remains tricky ... The remedy for this is straight-forward: the guidelines should be amended to include an explicit and public reassurance to researchers that RCUK and their associated funding councils will put in place instructions for reviewers and panel members to disregard impact factors in assessing all funding applications. Given RCUK’s evident approval of HEFCE’s IF-blind policy, I expect them to be ready to embrace an opportunity to foster a real improvement in our culture of assessment. The Wellcome Trust already has a statement to this effect built in to its open access policy, affirming the principle that: 'it is the intrinsic merit of the work, and not the title of the journal in which an author’s work is published, that should be considered in making funding decisions.'  Every little helps, so perhaps you can help me to persuade RCUK to adopt a similar statement? Together we can provide a friendly shove in the right direction.  The consultation on the guidelines is open until next Wednesday, 20th March. I will be writing to RCUK’s Alexandra Saxon on that date to request that an explicit disavowal of the use of impact factors in the assessment of researchers is included in the revised guidelines (providing a link to this post to explain the reasoning). Please feel free to write in the same vein or, if it is easier, leave a comment here stating that you are happy to be included as a signatory on my email. Or send me an email (s dot curry at imperial dot ac dot uk). Please give your name, title and


From feeds:

Open Access Tracking Project (OATP) »

Tags: oa.npg oa.business_models oa.publishers oa.comment oa.mandates oa.advocacy oa.consultations oa.impact oa.prestige oa.funders oa.wellcome oa.jif oa.rcuk oa.hefce oa.ref oa.repositories oa.policies oa.journals oa.metrics

Date tagged:

03/15/2013, 15:59

Date published:

03/15/2013, 11:59