Weighing Articles/Authors Instead of Journals
in Research Assessment
The United Kingdom ranks and rewards the research productivity of all
its universities through a national Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)
http://www.rae.ac.uk/ conducted every four years.
If, as lately proposed, the "RAE shifts focus from prestige journals"
(THS, 22 July 2005) as a basis for its ranking, what will it shift focus
An established journal's prestige and track-record are
correlated with its selectivity and peer-review standards,
hence its quality level, and often also its citation impact.
What would it mean to ignore or de-emphasise that? The correlations will
be ignored, all articles will be given equal weight -- and then what?
What gain in accuracy and fairness of research assessment is to be
expected from ignoring the known predictors -- for correlation is
predictive -- of research quality? Are all articles to be
re-peer-reviewed by the RAE itself, bottom-up? Is that efficient,
desirable, realistic? The most prestigious international journals draw
upon international expertise in their peer review: Is the UK to
reduplicate all this effort in-house every 4 years? Why? Isn't our time
better spent getting the peer-reviewing done right the first time, and
then getting on with our research?
Research assessment used to be publish-or-perish bean-counting; it is
now weighted by the quality level of the journal in which the bean is
planted. RAE outcome is already highly correlated with counts of the
citations that articles sprout, even though the RAE never actually
counts citations directly. That's because a journal's prestige is
correlated with its articles' citation counts.
So if we're going to start ignoring journal prestige, shouldn't we begin
to count article (and author) citations directly in its place?
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