Imperial College disavows the beloved Impact Factor. Boohoo.

Yippee! Imperial College London have signed DORA, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment! This basically means that the impact factor will no longer be used for research assessment. This follows the widespread documentation of its inherent flaws its but perplexing and continued mis-use.

This is HUGE. Impact factors will no longer be promoted, either directly or indirectly, in staff assessments. This means that people have to actually use methods that make sense when it comes to defining the structure of academia. Fancy that!

Credit: Hilda Bastian

Over a year ago now, I wrote to the Rector and Vice President of Imperial College asking them to stop relying on the impact factor as a metric for research assessment. I doubt this letter had any real impact, but either way it is amazing to see them finally cotton on and make a really ridiculously positive move for research and researchers.

The motivation for asking this was as follow:

I therefore encourage Imperial College to sign DORA, as part of a move towards establishing better criteria for selection and assessment. I see the adoption of the recommendations from DORA as a way of promoting a healthier research culture at Imperial College, and a transparent, more informed measure of the research conducted here.

Some other UK-based universities have already signed (e.g., The University of Sussex and University College London), as well as leading academic societies (e.g. HEFCE, the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society). However, at present the strongest support for DORA from universities has come from US, so there is an opportunity here for Imperial College to show leadership within the UK HE community. I envision that this will have a knock-on effect, encouraging other universities to sign, as part of a cultural change towards more sound methods of research assessment.

I should note that when I wrote this, it was generally met with the usual scorn from academics, saying that Imperial College would never do it, it was too risky a move, stop compromising the careers of junior researchers etc. The letter was completely open to anyone too, and I’m currently unaware whether anyone else has decided to actually take up the gauntlet and use it.

 The page on the main website at Imperial College now reads as thus (my emphasis):

As of January 2017, Imperial is a signatory of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA).

We are committed to ensuring that we will not consider journal-based metrics, such as journal impact factors (JIFs), in assessing the research achievements of staff or candidates for recruitment. Instead, in line with the Richardson review, we are determined to ensure that our procedures are grounded in appropriate evidence and fully contextualised.

Signing DORA means that JIFs will no longer be promoted, directly or indirectly, in the assessment of our staff, or in job adverts and person-specifications. We aim to give clear guidance to candidates for promotion or hiring on our assessment procedures.

These moves should in no way inhibit the choices made by staff on where to publish their research outputs. They are intended to give staff confidence that their work will be judged for what it is – not where it has been published – alongside their other contributions to College’s educational and societal mission.

Signing the declaration is also intended to empower staff to challenge any instances of practice that deviate from the goal of ensuring that research assessment practices are as rigorous as possible.

We recognise that establishing a transparent, evidence-based processes of staff evaluation as part of a culture that aims to be fully inclusive will take time. We look forward to working with all members of the College community in achieving that.

This is an ENORMOUS step for research at Imperial College, research culture, and research in the UK more broadly, as well as removing some of the stranglehold this awful metric has in governing academia.

Let’s hope other institutes follow suit now, and we all continue to actually do research assessment in a scientific manner, and not based on metrics that have absolutely no place in doing so in the first place.

I’ve also written much about how academia can kick its addiction to the impact factor for ScienceOpen, including by signing DORA.

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