Friday, 21 June 2013 12:30

Cell Press Almost Endorses DORA; Journals Banned from JIF for Citation Stacking; Columnist Slams "Impact" as Misleading

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Cell Press almost signs DORA. Cell Press almost signs DORA.

DORA or to give its full name, the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, continues to make friends and stir up dust. In an editorial in Cell entitled "June is the Cruelest Month," Emilie Marcus, the Executive Editor of Cell Press, gave a chilly reception to the arrival of the latest edition of the "two-year JIF," the journal citation algorithm from Thomson Reuters that rates scholarly publications for "impact." Marcus said that the JIF's flaws and its widespread abuse were well known in the scientific community and was ample justification for the DORA rebellion. Alas, Cell Press could not sign DORA, Marcus continued, "Because there were specific calls to action that we did not feel we could endorse as constructive and appropriate measures." Without specifying what was unconstructive or inappropriate, Marcus did continue, "We support the goals of DORA and add our voices and actions to bringing about change in how individual scientists are assessed for hiring, promotion, and tenure."

Thomson Reuters celebrated June by rolling out the 2013 edition of the JIFs for 2012  (a journal's JIF runs a calendar year behind) along with the news that it had banned a record number of journals—66—from future JIF counts because of "citation stacking." Writing in the Nature News Blog, Richard Van Noorden reported that Thomson Reuters had added an additional 37 journals to their "suppression" list for excessive self-citations that game the JIF, which he defined as "the much-maligned measure of how often the average research paper in a journal is cited."

Meantime over at Science, guest editorial writer Marc Kirschner, chair of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School and a former ASCB President, was tearing into a different kind of "impact" assessment, a proposal by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that grant reviewers be required to attach a paragraph on the likely "impact and significance" of the project, including the work's possible "sustained and powerful influence." Kirschner was blunt. "One may be able to recognize good science as it happens, but significant science can only be viewed in the rearview mirror." Citing the example of DNA restriction enzymes, Kirschner said that what was "once the province of obscure microbiological investigation ultimately enabled the entire recombinant DNA revolution."

Attempts to predict significance and make basic discovery more efficient are doomed to failure. Says Kirschner, "In science, faster, better, and cheaper are not as important as conceptual, novel, and careful."

John Fleischman

John is ASCB Senior Science Writer and the author among other things of two nonfiction books for older children, "Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science" and "Black & White Airmen," both from Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, Boston.

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