Funding councils sign up to ‘responsible’ research assessment

New injection of cash for San Francisco Declaration on responsible metrics hopes to move initiative from words to action

February 7, 2018
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Many are ‘fearful of shrugging off entrenched reward systems’

All seven of the UK’s research councils have signed up to a declaration that calls for the academic community to stop using journal impact factors as a proxy for the quality of scholarship.

The councils, which together fund about £3 billion of research each year, are among the latest to sign the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, known as Dora.

Stephen Curry, the chair of the Dora steering committee, said that the backing of the research councils gives the initiative a “significant boost”.

Dora was initiated at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in 2012 and launched the following year. It calls on researchers, universities, journal editors, publishers and funders to improve the ways they evaluate research.

It says that the academic community should not use the impact factor of journals that publish research as a surrogate for quality in hiring, promotion or funding decisions. The impact factor ranks journals according to the average number of citations that their articles receive over a set period of time, usually two years.

Professor Curry, professor of structural biology at Imperial College London, announces the new signatories to the declaration in a column published in Nature on 8 February.

Professor Curry told Times Higher Education: “[The research councils] signing up is a significant boost for the initiative…This is a major collection of funders from across the UK.”

According to the Nature article, Dora has received a new injection of funding from nine signatories including the American Society for Cell Biology, Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust, but not the research councils, to revamp the Dora steering committee and hire a community manager to help expand the initiative.

Professor Curry writes that the idea of scrapping using the impact factor in assessments has yet to “gain credibility” even at institutions that have signed the declaration.

“Job and grant applicants feel that they can’t compete unless they publish in prominent journals. Institutions and individual scientists are fearful of shrugging off the familiar harness of entrenched reward systems,” he says, adding that Dora now has to accelerate the change that it called for.

Ian Viney, director of strategic evaluation and impact at the Medical Research Council and the research council representative on the Responsible Metrics Forum, said that the decision to sign the declaration emphasises current practice at the councils.

“But with the rapid increase in accessibility of data about research, we wanted to make clear our position that quantitative research indicators should be used responsibly,” he added.

Almost 13,000 individuals and 450 organisations have now signed Dora.

holly.else@timeshighereducation.com

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