'Random slaughter offset by poaching' (2 of 3)

August 16, 2012

It is certainly odd that Simon Gaskell's response to his critics devotes very little space to their criticisms. He says that the criteria used to fire people "were based on generally recognised academic expectations". Nothing could be further from the truth: simply counting papers (not even weighting them) and using journal impact factor to measure their quality are methods that were utterly discredited years ago.

Queen Mary's Frequently Asked Questions: Restructures and Reviews in Academic Departments 2011-12 document states that the "research-related metrics" used in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences are the result of "extensive consultation with staff and include both the Australian (Research Council) journal classification system as well as impact factor".

But a year ago, Kim Carr, at that time the Australian minister for innovation, industry, science and research, said that setting targets for publication in A and A* journals had encouraged "ill-informed, undesirable behaviour in the management of research". This had led him "to remove the rankings, based on the ARC's expert advice".

It seems that Gaskell is unaware of this, since he is enforcing the "ill-informed, undesirable behaviour in the management of research" that Australia has dropped.

The UK has dropped it, too. Is Gaskell not aware of the instructions for the research excellence framework? They state: "No sub-panel will make any use of journal impact factors, rankings, lists or the perceived standing of publishers in assessing the quality of research outputs."

The people Gaskell seeks to please have condemned his methods. If that is not "bringing your university into disrepute", I don't know what is.

David Colquhoun, Professor of pharmacology, University College London

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