The research excellence framework physics subpanel “used” citations only as a secondary source of information and as a sanity check to “inform” the peer review assessment (“Can metrics really replace reviewers in REF?”, Research Intelligence, 18 June). All physics outputs were read by at least two assessors and peer reviewed accordingly.
My attitude as chair of the physics REF panel to citations was predicated on a study that I did before the REF began of the three main citation providers. In a randomly selected sample of about 20 physics papers submitted to the research assessment exercise, I found discrepancies, often large, between the citation numbers returned by each of the three providers. If the input data from the providers are discrepant, how can we ever use citation-based metrics to predict anything other than the broadest of conclusions? In addition, since citations cannot be used in arts subjects and any REF-like exercise must treat all subject areas on as level a playing field as practicable, this whole discussion seems moot.
I agree that there is a substantial cost to the REF in terms of staff time and effort, but while the government insists on an assessment of research, I cannot think of a viable alternative. I would support returning to the old system of quinquennial grants, but I am not holding my breath for the announcement of this nirvana.