Academic reputation ‘still driven by journal prestige’ – survey

Global poll of nearly 10,000 researchers reveals continued influence of bibliometrics in determining reputation and institutional ties

August 3, 2022
 Press photographers take pictures of the podium of the winning onions to illustrate Journal prestige still driving reputation
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Research citation scores and the prestige of journals in which academics publish remain highly important factors in how scholars judge each other despite international efforts to reduce their impact, a Times Higher Education survey of almost 10,000 academics has found.

Aside from an individual’s personal interactions with another academic, the perceived quality of the journal where a researcher publishes is the most influential factor when forming an opinion on their academic standing, with almost half (49 per cent) of 9,609 respondents saying it is important and 12 per cent saying it is most important.

Asked about citation metrics, 24 per cent say a scholar’s h-index and other similar measures are important and 5 per cent say they are the most crucial factor.

While personal interactions are most cited as important (69 per cent rate this as important and 41 per cent most important) in reputational matters, the popularity of bibliometrics may surprise some scholars following sustained efforts to lessen the so-called “prestige economy” in academic publishing, which many blame for rising subscription and open access costs at top journals and the marginalisation of world-class research published outside big-name titles.

Last month more than 350 organisations from more than 40 countries signed a new concordat, building on the 2015 Leiden Manifesto, which would see research evaluated mainly on qualitative measures and the journal-based metrics abandoned. That agreement came nearly 10 years after the signing of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (Dora), which sought to phase out the use of journal-based metrics when making funding, appointment and promotion decisions, and has now been signed by almost 20,000 individuals and 2,600 institutions worldwide.

According to the THE survey, about half of institutions (48 per cent) used the quality of the journal in which research is published to judge whether a research collaboration had been successful or not – more than the proportion (37 per cent) that said the tangible impact of the research beyond academia would be the yardstick of success.

Mark Tweddle, senior higher education consultant on THE’s consultancy team, said that the survey of researchers – of whom 79 per cent had at least 11 years’ research experience – indicated the enduring influence of leading journals and bibliometrics within the academy.

“With the increasing shift to open-access publications in recent years, it might be assumed that deriving reputation from where academics publish might be lessened,” said Mr Tweddle.

“Perhaps that will be the case in time, but for now it seems that old habits die hard and a significant amount of kudos is given to academics who publish in certain journals,” he added.

When respondents were asked about how they choose an institution with which to work, values matter as much as research expertise, the survey also finds. Being able to collaborate openly and with trust is mentioned by almost a third of respondents (32 per cent) as the most influential factor for starting a collaboration, while exactly the same proportion say that alignment of research expertise is the most crucial element for collaborations.

The reputation of individual researchers was cited as the top factor by 11 per cent of academics while 2 per cent mentioned the overall reputation of the researcher’s university, although 51 per cent and 11 per cent respectively mention these factors as being somewhat important.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

For more information about the survey findings contact consultancy@timeshighereducation.com.

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Journal prestige still driving reputation

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Reader's comments (5)

How was ‘journal prestige’ defined in this survey? For over 25 years survey after survey of authors (such as conducted by ALPSP, as one example) have shown that the most important factor in an author’s choice of publishing venue is whether the journal has the most appropriate ‘targeted readership’ for the author’s own research interests. Citation counts, impact factors and other prestige measures - while not insignificant - are secondary factors. Journals represent a specific ‘community of scholars’, so publishers’ ‘marketing for content’ tends to focus on the questions, ‘Does my work belong in this journal?’, and ‘Is this the right place for research communication with my peers?’.
Sorry but I think this "appropriate readership" question is so hopelessly vague - to be almost useless. Historians publish in history journals, physicians/med researchers in medical journals (largely): but when it comes to selecting a title with the fields' range of journal choices, that's where bibliometrics become dominant. Maybe not in surveys (where people typically answer as their best self), but in the hundreds of interviews and discussions with students and researchers, everyone has a wish/hit list, almost always driven by perceived prestige (aka IF)
Weighing a pig does not make it heavier. Achieving high numbers of citations seems as useful as getting more "likes" and retweets on Twitter and says nothing about the quality (rather than popularity / awareness ) of the research. We need a better / more tangible way of measuring the value of a piece of research.
Problem with this is a journal like the Cambridge Law Journal sometimes has 80 percent of its papers from staff in Cambridge and that is statistically impossible if it really is a full open contest.
‘journal prestige’ defined by classim and whether the journal is hosted by big old brand name university

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