Dr Dai Llemmer

November 24, 2006

"Gerald", director of entrepreneurship at a nearly new university on the South Coast, has contacted me to admit: "I don't understand research metrics at all, which is a real problem at parties and in senate, where I am often bullied by bigger pro vice-chancellors and people with flipcharts. This is bad enough, but the really awful thing is that I have been tasked with rolling out a metrics-maximisation strategy for the arts faculty by next Thursday, and I don't know what to do. Can you help me?"

Dr Dai Llemmer replies:

Well, thanks for sharing this intriguing dilemma, Gerald. Rest assured, you are not alone. You'd be surprised how many professors, vice-chancellors and even education ministers have written to me this week alone seeking help on this very issue. The truth is that hardly anyone actually knows what metrics are or how they work, so there is nothing to be ashamed about.

I passed on your query to my colleague Dave Clipboard, head of elastics in the School of Semi-Advanced Sciences, who is leading our own "Rush to Metrics" initiative.

Dave told me: "The really cool thing about metrics is that they allow us to create the impression of a wonderfully effective research infrastructure without our having to actually do any research anymore, thus freeing up a lot more time for committees, away-days and golf with the vice-chancellor.

To put it very simply, what will be measured is input (things such as income, graduate applications, staff numbers) and output (number of articles published, citations, higher degrees awarded and so on). It's quantity that counts now, not quality. The bigger the numbers, the better you do.

"The good news for your 'friend' is that arts metrics are really simple. Arts departments don't have any income or graduate students to speak of, so it all comes down to journal citations (books are no good, we haven't devised a programme to count them yet). His best strategy (I'm assuming it's a 'he', you don't know many women, do you?) is to give all the available research leave to the maddest person in the faculty, ideally the lonely alcoholic in English who buttonholes everyone in the senior common room about how Francis Bacon wrote all the works of Shakespeare. Get him to write a whole stream of articles in home-published journals and send off-prints to every scholar on the planet. They will all feel the need to add a footnote in their next article refuting the nonsense that your idiot has written, with the result that his citation index goes through the roof. It doesn't matter if what he writes is rubbish because there is no more peer review. Result! Your friend's institution will be top of the research league table before you can say 'Kafkaesque nightmare'."

Well, Gerald, that all looks very easy, doesn't it? Good luck with the roll-out. (I'm not sure what he meant about women, by the way, some of my best friends are women. No, really...)

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