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UK Research Councils Sign Declaration Against The Use of Journal Impact Factors in Evaluating Research Excellence

All seven UK Research Councils have joined others from across the globe signing the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), to protest against the use of Journal Impact Factors in assessing research quality, Times Higher Education reported on 7 February 2018. This is significant for the UK research funding allocation as a new category of “impact” had been added from 2014 onwards

The Declaration protests against the use of Journal Impact Factors in research assessment, hiring and grant applications. DORA signatories argue that Journal Impact Factors were not designed to measure research quality, but rather as a tool to assist librarians in deciding which journals to purchase. They are based on how frequently the journal is cited across a period of two years, a practice which DORA signatories argue has very little to do with research quality, and does not reflect differences across disciplines, nor differences in the quality of papers within the same publication. It has become common practice, however, for individual and institutional quality to be evaluated according to the number of publications in high impact journals.

The UK Research Councils are comparatively late signatories to DORA, which was launched in 2012, but now has almost 13, 000 individuals and 450 organisations party to the declaration. The delay in uptake from UK Research Councils may be due to the UK government’s own own investigation into the use of metrics in determining funding allocations to universities as distributed through the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) Research Excellence Framework (REF). Their report, The Metric Tide, was released in July 2015. It concluded that no metrics were comparative to peer review processes, and that some, including Journal Impact Factors, are vulnerable to certain gaming practices.

Despite these findings, DORA argues that the use of impact factors in hiring, promotion and evaluations for individuals and institutions is entrenched in the university system. However, Stephen Curry, the chair of the DORA steering committee was optimistic about the support of the UK Research Councils. He told Times Higher Education that the UK Research Councils’ support gave the initiative a “significant boost”. He hopes that it will assist in the spread of responsible metric use and the ultimate scrapping of impact factors in research quality evaluations.

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