At the 2012 meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco, a group of scientific publishers and editors gathered to call for a paradigm shift in how the value of research significance and impact should be assessed. The result of that meeting became the Declaration on Research Assessment or DORA. Five years later, the DORA movement continues to grow. The declaration calls for a culture change around research assessment, in particular how the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) is used in hiring, promotion, and funding decisions.
Now the ASCB, Cancer Research UK, The Company of Biologists, eLife, EMBO, F1000, Hindawi, PLOS, and Wellcome have joined together to provide funding and in-kind support to the initiative. DORA’s next move is to begin documenting and sharing examples of good practice with the scientific community. In a World View column published February 8 in the journal Nature and available online, Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology at Imperial College in London and chair of a new steering committee behind DORA, called for renewed dedication to the movement’s mission. Curry’s call to action is bolstered by investments from nine organizations in the U.S. and Europe combined with signatures on the Declaration for each of the U.K.’s seven Research Councils.
Formally introduced on May 17, 2013, DORA calls on funding agencies, institutions, publishers, metrics suppliers, and researchers to take a modern approach to the evaluation of research and researchers. The Declaration makes recommendations for each group, insisting that the whole academic enterprise should no longer “use journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist’s contributions, or in hiring, promotion, or funding decisions.” DORA has been signed by nearly 12,000 individuals and hundreds of organizations.
However, Curry—an outspoken advocate for a better way to evaluate scientists—says DORA has yet to succeed in all its aims:
“… processes for JIF-free assessment have yet to gain credibility even at some institutions that signed on to DORA. Stories of university research managers demanding high JIFs percolate from tenured professors to graduate students. Job and grant applicants feel that they can’t compete unless they publish in prominent journals. Institutions and individual scientists are fearful of shrugging off the familiar harness of entrenched reward systems.
“So DORA’s job now is to accelerate the change it called for.”
His hope is that support from funders, publishers and societies will give DORA the momentum it needs to be transformed from a rallying point into “a tool for evaluating researchers fairly.” The American Society for Cell Biology, Cancer Research UK, Company of Biologists, eLife, European Molecular Biology Organization, Faculty of 1000, Hindawi, Public Library of Science, and Wellcome have committed to support the initiative for at least the next two years.
Backing from the UK Research Councils is another significant cue that the commitment to bringing DORA principles to life is growing stronger. Public funders disbursing over three billion pounds in research each year (over $4.27b USD), the Research Councils are the most recent in a string of public and private funders to sign the declaration—now including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Swiss National Science Foundation, and the Indian Department of Biotechnology. The Councils published a statement about this move on their website, http://www.rcuk.ac.uk.
On the future of DORA Curry writes, “We are committed to getting on with the job. Our goal is to discover and disseminate examples of good practice and also to boost the profile of assessment reform. We will do that at research conferences and online discussions; we will also establish regional nodes across the world run by volunteers who will work to identify and address local issues.” The group has also updated its website at https://sfdora.org.
“Declarations like DORA are important; credible alternatives to the status quo are more so.
True success will mean more institutions in a broader swath of the world bragging about the quality of their research assessment procedures rather than the size of their JIFs.”
The full column, “Let’s move beyond the rhetoric: it’s time to change how we judge research,” is published in the February 8 issue of Nature.
Read the full San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment at https://sfdora.org