Staff told to sharpen up citations

September 7, 2007

Staff at King's College London have been told by the principal to properly credit the institution in research papers, writes Rebecca Attwood.

In a newsletter, Rick Trainor warns that King's "underperforms significantly" and has even been "alleged to be the worst in Europe" when it comes to having the published research of its academics cited by other scholars.

In a article which raises wider questions about the use of citations in evaluating research quality, he warns that staff must pull their socks up if King's is to be correctly positioned in league tables, especially as future research infrastructure money will be allocated on the basis of so-called bibliometric measures, which rate the quality of research on the basis of how much it is cited by others.

"Like many University of London institutions, we had a whole series of mergers in the 1990s, and this has introduced considerable complexity into the way in which our academic authors identify themselves," Professor Trainor told The Times Higher .

Papers originating in two institutions in particular are frequently cited without proper credit for King's College London: those from King's College's School of Medicine, which is partly based at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals, and those from King's College's Institute of Psychiatry.

In 2005-06, 47 per cent of papers from one school at King's were wrongly credited.

Martin Ince, contributing editor for The Times Higher , who helps compile The Times Higher 's world rankings, said it was "sensible" of Professor Trainor to highlight the issue. "You can't expect someone compiling the data in Philadelphia to know that the Institute of Psychiatry is part of King's," Mr Ince said.

Correct citation will become increasingly important to universities as decisions on the allocation of billions of pounds of research infrastructure funding become based on metrics, rather than peer review, after the 2008 research assessment exercise. Jonathan Adams, of research data analysis company Evidence, said there was a "significant and systematic problem" in linking author addresses to their UK institutions, which will "make life very difficult" for the Higher Education Funding Council in developing metrics to allocate future research funding.

Universities with medical schools face the biggest problem. But Manchester University's Jodrell Bank observatory, based in Cheshire, and Liverpool University's Centre for Manx Studies on the Isle of Man have also been identified as the type of institutions which may cause problems.

London, Warwick, Stirling and Manchester Metropolitan universities all have an Institute of Education.

For some, this is evidence of the fallibility of metrics and a glaring example of why they should not be used to judge research quality.

David Wells, treasurer of the Modern Humanities Research Association, describes bibliometric measures as a "pseudoscience".

"When money is going to be allocated on this insecure basis, it is very worrying," he said.

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