Newswise — July 28, 2014—Call it “JIF Day,” an event both anticipated and dreaded in scientific publishing when Journal Citation Reports, a commercial service of Thomson Reuters “Web of Science,” issues its yearly “journal impact factor” (JIF) ratings that purport to rank journals by their research impact. This year Thomson Reuters postponed JIF Day from mid-June to late-July. With the 2014 JIF ranking finally expected on Tuesday, July 29, the anti-JIF coalition of scientists, journal editors, and scholarly publishers who issued the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) are greeting the delayed JIFs with examples of JIF-less “good practices” for scientific assessment. DORA is calling for the scientific community to contribute fresh JIF-less examples to a new DORA web page, www.ascb.org/dora/goodpractices. Two of the new JIF-less assessment procedures collected to date will affect scientists applying for positions at two of Europe’s leading funders of science research, the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in Germany and the Gulbenkian Institute for Science (IGC) in Portugal.
“DORA now has more than 11,000 supporters worldwide and we’re asking for their help in building a database on the DORA website of new and innovative JIF-less good practices,” says Dr. Stefano Bertuzzi, ASCB Executive Director. “We’re taking advantage of the late release of the 2014 JIF ratings to point out that there are better ways to evaluate the impact of a scientific discovery than a group statistic.”
At EMBO www.embo.org/documents/LTF/LTF_FAQs.pdf, applicants for Long-Term Fellowships will now be told that journal impact factors should not be used in the evaluation of their research. Instead the new policy states, “EMBO encourages evaluation of the quality of the scientific work and its impact on the field, rather than the Impact Factor of the journal in which it was published," according to EMBO Fellowship Program Director Andrea Hutterer.
The Gulbenkian or IGC, Portugal’s leading privately funded science research institution, is even blunter in its job search criteria for laboratory Group Leaders. www.igc.gulbenkian.pt/pages/facilities.php/A=316___collection=article. “The CV with publication list should not present numerical indicators such as impact factors, numbers of citations or Hirsch (H) factors, and such indices will not be taken into consideration throughout the selection procedure.” Applicants are invited instead to single out three of their papers that they consider of special merit, with a brief explanation of why each was chosen.
DORA supporters believe that the JIF and other citation impact metrics are being misused, warping scientific careers and research funding as a result. DORA began in San Francisco during the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) where the scientists, editors, publishers, and research leaders who drafted DORA initially focused their dissatisfaction on the Thomson Reuters JIF, which ranks scholarly journals by the average number of citations their articles attract in a set period, usually the preceding two years. Publishing in “high JIF-journals” had become an obsession among graduate and postgraduate trainees, they argue, as junior scientists feared with good reason that a low-JIF journal publication, no matter the value of the science, would be ignored in job interviews or funding applications.
Over five months of discussion, the San Francisco group moved from an “insurrection,” in the words of one publisher, against the use of the prominent two-year JIF to a wider reconsideration of scientific assessment. The final DORA statement posted contained 18 recommendations for change in the scientific culture at all levels—individual scientists, publishers, institutions, funding agencies, and the bibliometric services themselves—to reduce the dominant role of the JIF in evaluating research and researchers and instead to focus on the content of primary research papers, regardless of publication venue.
DORA went public in May 2013 at http://www.ascb.org/SFdeclaration.html, calling for individual scientists and research organizations to change the culture of scientific assessment and devise new JIF-less best practices in hiring, promotion, and funding decisions. To date, 11,214 individuals have signed DORA along with 484 organizations ranging from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to the Crustacean Society.
Beyond EMBO and the Gulbenkian, other scientific groups have adopted JIF-less best practices. Last year, the ASCB banned the use of journal impact factors in publishers’ promotional materials it distributes on behalf of exhibitors at the ASCB Annual Meeting and in advertising in its publications. ASCB has also outlawed using JIF numbers in applications for the ASCB Kaluza Prize supported by Beckman Coulter for outstanding graduate research. At the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, the Department of Cell Biology announced a new faculty hiring procedure that will employ a JIF-free evaluation of candidates’ published work, according to department chair Dr. Sandra Schmid.
The Max Planck Society in Germany has recently recognized that outstanding work by applicants for positions there may not always appear in high impact-factor journals: “We are well aware that an ‘exotic,’ or in other words, an interdisciplinary, approach is often most promising in the long run but easily happens to fail showing up in classical high-impact journals. So we strongly encourage our committees to focus on content rather than on formal aspects,” says Dr. Stefan Fabry, senior assistant for the vice president of the Max Planck.
Images: The “DORA” logo is available for downloading at www.ascb.org/SFdeclaration.html.