Beans and counters

August 5, 2005

If the "RAE shifts focus from prestige journals" (July 22), where will it shift its focus to (Letters, July 29)? A journal's track record is correlated with its selectivity and peer-review standards, hence its quality, and often its citation impact.

What does it mean to ignore that? By disregarding correlations, all articles will get equal weight. But what gain in accuracy and fairness of research assessment is to be expected from ignoring known quality predictors? (Correlation is predictive.) Are all articles to be re-peer-reviewed by the research assessment exercise? Is that efficient, desirable, realistic? The most prestigious journals draw on international expertise in peer review: is the UK to duplicate this every four years? Isn't our time better spent getting peer reviewing done right the first time?

Research assessment used to be publish-or-perish bean counting; it is now weighted by the quality of the journal in which the bean is planted. RAE outcome is already highly correlated with the number of citations that articles sprout, even though the RAE doesn't count these directly. That's because journal prestige is correlated with article citation counts. So if we're going to start ignoring journal prestige, shouldn't we begin to count article (and author) citations instead?

Stevan Harnad, Southampton University

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