IFcracy

Here is an important editorial about the problem of (mis)using impact factor to evaluate the scientists.

In the last 4 years I have clearly observed a tendency for research to be driven by small projects and fast publishable papers rather then the questions we are really interested in (although these do not need to be mutually exclusive). The reason is obvious: there are not many fellowships nor positions and the existence of a future salary/income as a researcher is highly dependent on these numbers. The ends do not justify the means, but they certainly influence behaviors.

As mentioned in the editorial, among other problems, this results in a bias of our research lines and it raises a pressure for doing research in questions or areas more “rewardable” than others, which are not necessarily more relevant in terms of contributing to advances in our knowledge and society.

However, we scientists, should not forget we are the evaluators in this peer review system. Therefore, if we all agree that in a long-term perspective it does not benefit science, neither society, it is in our hands to fight this maladaptive process that measure researchers by numbers (IFcracy). We cannot let the “short-term output” or the “I-want-the-answer-now”, typical from nowadays decision makers (politics/economic power), to invade science. Scientific research is connected with politics by funding and it has been like this since at least the past 400 years. However, funding ultimately comes from taxpayers, not from politicians, who are mere representatives of the general public in this process.

Therefore, when we are playing the evaluator role (or some other scientific advisory task), we should not forget that we are not there to please the politicians that hired us. Instead, we have a commitment with the taxpayers. If we think that long-term research is more beneficial for society, then we need to eliminate or reduce the importance given to IF in evaluations. After all, we all recognize who are the good researchers after a good “old school” scientific debate. We all recognize skills (creativity, rigor, solid knowledge, communication with the general public, capacity to stimulate curiosity and debate, mentoring skills, capacity lead research projects,  contribution with relevant scientific findings in a given field, etc, etc) that are at least equally important in the scientific process as it is act of publication.

We, scientists, cannot abandon the long-term insightful research and cannot be penalized by our peers (evaluators) from trying to do what is now considered “a risky endeavor”. It is simply in our hands, researchers, to invert this IFcracy. The more we progress in our scientific careers, the more grants we will have in hands to evaluate. It is important that when it that time comes, to stop following the dictatorship of the IF numbers and start reading the candidate’s contributions to evaluate the influence of their ideas and conclusions in the scientific community. After all, the way we measure researchers’ quality it is not a heritable trait!

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