Screwing over a junior colleague to make your point about Impact Factor is stupid
May 16, 2013
I generally like Stephen Curry’s position on the Journal Impact Factor. For example, in today’s confessional posting, he says:
mostly because of the corrosive effect they have on science and scientists.
In this we agree. He also posted “Sick of Impact Factors” and this bit focused on UK scholarly assessment. I enjoy his description of the arguments for why the Journal Impact Factor is leading to incorrect inferences and why it has a detrimental impact on the furthering of scientific knowledge.
But he pulled an academic nose sniffer / theological wackaloon move that I cannot support.
I was asked by a well-known university in North America to help assess the promotion application of one of their junior faculty. This was someone whose work I knew — and thought well of — so I was happy to agree. However, when the paperwork arrived I was disappointed to read the following statement the description of their evaluation procedures:
“Some faculty prefer to publish less frequently and publish in higher impact journals. For this reason, the Adjudicating Committee will consider the quality of the journals in which the Candidate has published and give greater weight to papers published in first rate journals.”
He then, admirably, tried to get them to waver on their JIF criterion….but to no avail
The reply was curt — they respected my decision for declining. And that was it.
I feel bad that I was unable to participate. I certainly wouldn’t want my actions to harm the career opportunities of another but could no longer bring myself to play the game. Others may feel differently.
So by refusing to play, he has removed himself as a guaranteed advocate for change. By drawing a hard, nose-sniffing line in the sand that he refuses to play if the game doesn’t change.
I prefer a more practical approach to all of this. I think I’ve alluded to this in the past.
I certainly agree to review manuscripts for journals where they are overtly concerned with “impact and importance” and the maintenance of their Journal Impact Factor. Certainly. And no, I do not ignore their obvious goals. I try to give the editor in question some indication of where I see the impact and importance and whether it deserves acceptance at their high falutin’ journal.
But I use my standards. I do not just roll over for what I see as the more corrosive aspects of Glamour Chasing. I rarely demand more experiments, I do not throw up ridiculous chaff about “mechanism” and other completely subjective bullshit and I do not demand optogenetics as the threshold for being interesting.
Stephen Curry could have very well done the same for this tenure review. He could have emphasized his own judgement of the impact and importance of the science and left the JIF bean counting to other reviewers. He could have struck a blow in support of the full and comprehensive review of the actual meat of this poor young faculty members’ contributions. Instead, he simply left the field, after sending up an impotent protest flag.
I think that is sacrificing actual progress on ones goals for the fine feeling of chest thumping purity. And that is a mistake.