Elsevier chief: end citation fixation to halt ‘salami publishing’

YS Chi claims publisher’s shift to recognise research quality over quantity left a void that has been filled by others happy to publish insubstantial work

April 4, 2019
Source: iStock

The chairman of Elsevier has called for universities to stop evaluating researchers only on their publication and citation counts, warning that doing so was driving academics to turn out multiple papers based on a single study in the practice dubbed “salami publishing”.

Youngsuk “YS” Chi was responding to a question at the Times Higher Education Innovation and Impact Summit on the problem of universities publishing too many papers that went unread.

Mr Chi said that when he joined Elsevier 14 years ago, he “saw that we were publishing a lot because that was a way to make more money, but that wasn’t really serving the long-term benefit of our company or the community of researchers”. Acting on that insight, he said, the publishing giant decided to publish fewer papers but of higher quality.

As a consequence, Elsevier “lost several percentage points of market share in those 14 years” but “gained about 25 per cent in the FWCI [field-weighted citation index], which means that we really raised the quality of the papers we publish”.

While he stressed that he was “not at all against the goal of the open access model”, Mr Chi said that Elsevier’s emphasis on high-grade work in effect opened a publishing niche and “left others to fill the vacuum”, which they did by publishing “without the quality control” and sometimes “without peer review”.

“I’m not [abdicating] our responsibility as an industry leader because we haven’t done a good job with that. However, we do need to work with academia to say can we help change how you measure your faculty, beyond just publishing and just citations,” he said.

“I think if we stopped measuring how many papers [scholars produce and instead] measure [their] quality…it would immediately reduce the silliness of doing salami publishing.”

Speaking at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon, Mr Chi cited Germany as a country that “did an extraordinary [amount of] salami publishing”, but noted that the nation was trying to end the practice.

“It’s a responsibility we bear together, and we certainly as industry associates have to work hard to educate the world that publishing is not [the be-all and end-all]. Impact is. But impact is not just citations, either.”

Mr Chi’s comments followed a keynote speech in which he argued that universities were “uniquely positioned as a cultural counterbalance to tech companies, with different priorities, missions and management systems”.

“If they can uphold this reputation, universities and not companies will be the institutions that people trust to influence and educate the next generation,” he said.

Mr Chi added that universities, in contrast to industry, had long-term vision, could facilitate collaborative research and were trustworthy.

During a separate panel discussion on industry development and skill requirements, Byoung-Hoon Kim, senior vice-president of LG Electronics, said the “gap between the future research of universities and the future research of corporations” had become “too narrow”.

He asked universities to “restore their original strength” of fundamental research “so that we can complement each other”.


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