Down with the impact factor

The impact factor is one of the most mis-used metrics in the history of academia. Stephen Curry and others have written much about the ‘impact factor’ disease, stating that if you use it in almost any form then you’re “statistically illiterate”, something which I’m inclined to agree with.

Image by Hilda Bastian

But such conversations about the impact factor are designed for one-on-one combating of its use. We often talk about ‘changing the culture’ of research assessment, which addresses the bigger picture of research assessment. And that means getting those who pull the strings to listen and make the changes we all advocate for. To that end, I’ve drafted an Open Letter template for researchers (with help from the community). This letter is to send to people in positions of power at different institutions, co-signed by as many academics as possible who believe in fairer and evidence-based assessment. It can be re-mixed, shared, edited, whatever you want. It’s just a tool to help empower researchers make the change we advocate for against the prevalent mis-use of the impact factor.

In the UK, there are currently only two universities (Sussex and UCL) who have signed DORA, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment. This Declaration recommends for Institutions:

1. Be explicit about the criteria used to reach hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions, clearly highlighting, especially for early-stage investigators, that the scientific content of a paper is much more important than publication metrics or the identity of the journal in which it was published.

2. For the purposes of research assessment, consider the value and impact of all research outputs (including datasets and software) in addition to research publications, and consider a broad range of impact measures including qualitative indicators of research impact, such as influence on policy and practice.

There is absolutely nothing to lose from employing these recommendations. All we gain is an enriched and informed process of evaluation, and one which does away with non-sensical, mis-used metrics that are more purchased than earned anyway.

So take this letter, sign it, share it, and become the change.

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