European Research Council bans journal impact factor from bids

For the first time prestigious funder has explicitly told academics they must not include metric when applying for grants

July 16, 2021
Finger wagging and document illustrating ERC exclusion of JIF metrics
Source: iStock

One of the world’s most prestigious research funders has told academics that they must not include journal impact factors (JIF) in their applications, in the latest sign that the controversial metric has become discredited.

In the European Research Council’s (ERC) latest work programme, applicants are for the first time explicitly told to avoid mentioning the metric when listing their publications.

“Properly referenced, field relevant bibliometric indicators” can be used “except the journal impact factor”, states the new guidance, released on 14 July.

JIFs are based on the average number of citations that papers in the journal accrue.

But the metric has been under fire for years because, in the eyes of critics, a journal-wide score says little or nothing about a particular paper within it.

Not only can a JIF hide a wide distribution of citations between papers, but some academics have found evidence of journal editors using “trickery” to artificially inflate their scores, for example, by coercing authors into citing their journals in return for inclusion.

Despite this research and multiple declarations decrying the metric, three-quarters of European universities admitted to using it when evaluating staff performance, according to a survey in 2019.

At the same time as announcing its new work programme, the ERC also said it had officially signed up to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (Dora), a 2012 statement focused on overhauling the way research is evaluated.

Although the ERC says it was hewing to Dora guidance even before this official announcement, it states that it will take into account a “broad range of achievements” when assessing applications.

“Depending on the research area of the principal investigator and their career stage, the track record is expected to include achievements such as peer-reviewed journal publications, monographs and their translations, conference proceedings, invited presentations at major events, preprints, granted patents, and prizes and awards,” it said in a statement.

“The number of peer-reviewed publications and preprints that can be listed is limited to 10 (five for starting grant applicants),” the guidance states. “While it is expected that the publications have a significant reach, applicants are explicitly asked not to include the journal impact factor.”

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

It’s about time this dubious measurement is cast into oblivion for grant applications. I have colleagues who insist on having undergraduate students in large classes they teach read their papers in so-called high impact journals

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