Researchers and scientific groups make new push against impact factors

REF. DATE:18 May 2013 CREATED/MODIFIED: 10 October 2015 242 views No Comment

More than 150 researchers and 75 scientific groups issued a declaration on Thursday against the widespread use of journal “impact factors,” blaming the practice for dangerous distortions in financing and hiring in science.

The impact factor “has a number of well-documented deficiencies as a tool for research assessment,” the scientists said in the letter, which had been in preparation since a conference led by publishers and grant-writing agencies last year in San Francisco.

Those deficiencies include the ability of publishers to manipulate the calculations, and the way the metrics encourage university hiring and promotion decisions, as well as grant agencies’ award distributions, that can lack an in-depth understanding of scientific work.

“There is certainly a need for fair and objective methods to evaluate science and scientists, no doubt about that,” said Stefano Bertuzzi, executive director of the American Society for Cell Biology, which organized the campaign. “But that need does not change the fact that the journal impact factor does not measure what it’s supposed to measure when it is applied to evaluations of scientists’ work.”

For all those who signed the letter, however, the effect may be overshadowed by those who did not, including some of the world’s leading publishers and representatives of leading research universities. They include the Nature Publishing Group and Elsevier, two of the most dominant scientific publishers, and the Association of American Universities, which represents top-ranked research institutions.

The editor in chief of Nature, Philip Campbell, said he and other editors of the company’s journals have regularly published editorials critical of excesses in the use of journal impact factors, especially in rating researchers.

“But the draft statement contained many specific elements, some of which were too sweeping for me or my colleagues to sign up to,” said Mr. Campbell. Among the 18 recommendations in the letter, journals were asked to “greatly reduce emphasis on the journal impact factor as a promotional tool.”

A spokesman for the AAU, Barry Toiv, said he had no comment on the matter.

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