Academics think, ‘others value journal prestige and metrics, not me’

Study pinpoints ‘disconnect’ between what academics value when submitting work for publication, and what they think others value

July 26, 2019
A pile of journals
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The findings of a new study about what academics value when choosing where to publish, and what they think colleagues value, show that the academy needs to “realign what we all inherently value as academics with what we reward in academia”, according to one of its authors.

While academics say they value the readership of a journal, they believe that their scholarly colleagues place more importance on journal metrics, prestige and monetary incentives, according to a study published on BioRxiv, which looks at academics’ priorities for publishing decisions and their perceived importance within review, promotion and tenure (RPT) processes.

The study was undertaken in light of growing concerns about “quantity over quality” in academic publishing, said one of the authors of the study, Meredith Niles, assistant professor in the department of nutrition and food sciences and the Food Systems Program at the University of Vermont.

A total of 338 people from 55 randomly selected higher education institutions across the US and Canada were surveyed in the study.

Academics were asked what they thought was important when deciding where to submit a manuscript, and what they thought their peers valued when making the same decisions.

The researchers found a “disconnect” between what academics value themselves when submitting their work for publication – journal readership – and what they think their counterparts value – prestige and metrics such as journal impact factors and citations.

Dr Niles described this as the “most fascinating result” of the study.

“Ultimately, we want others to read our work because this is what truly advances research,” she added.

“But humans also tend to view themselves as ‘better than average’ and more [altruistic] than others, and our results suggest that as well – ‘it’s others who value prestige or journal metrics, not me’.”

Respondents felt that the number of publications (total and per year), journal name recognition and journal impact factors are most valued by RPT committees, explained another of the study’s authors, Juan Pablo Alperin.

“We found that faculty beliefs [about] the RPT process were more likely to determine where they chose to publish than other characteristics (such as age, career stage and institution type),” added the assistant professor in publishing studies at Simon Fraser University.

“If faculty made publishing decisions based on what they reported was more important to them, they would choose publication venues based on reaching the right readership above all else.”

The results also suggest a “generational gap”, with older and tenured faculty not seeing journal prestige and metrics as being as important for publication decisions as younger, untenured academics do.

Younger academics may be valuing prestige in metrics because they think it is “what they need to do to get tenure”, said Dr Niles.

But the “irony” is that the older and tenured academics, who are the ones most likely to serve on RPT committees, don’t seem to value them as much, she continued.

The results of the study suggest that what academics themselves value the most is “making sure their work reaches the right academics to advance science and research”, said Dr Niles.

However, academics exist within a system where they think other things – quantity of publications, metrics or prestige of publication venue – “matter the most” to others.

“There is great opportunity to realign what we all inherently value as academics with what we reward in academia,” said Dr Niles.

nick.mayo@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: ‘Other people value journal prestige, not me’

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