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What is an alternative to impact factors?

Posted by on March 17, 2016

Rebecca Nesbit MRSB has put together videos of advice from Nobel Laureates speaking at Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative events.

Impact factors are flawed – we all know that, we all agree. But where do we go from here? They are a simple way to judge a researcher, and this is very welcome if you are comparing lots of applicants for jobs or grants.

The idea is simple. Each researcher submits a list of publications, and is judged based on the number of papers and the impact factor of the journals they are published in. However, this approach has been criticised, so people have been looking for alternatives.

Publications are indeed an important output from a scientist, and they can be taken into account even if you ignore impact factors. Some scientists instead take note of whether the papers are published in a journal which has a rigorous review process.

To look more deeply at these papers, one common option is citation rate. This is the number of times a particular paper has been cited, and comes with flaws such as variation between different areas of science. Also, the citations could be a combination of the author citing themselves and others citing the paper in a critical manner.

Nobel Laureate Bruce Beutler is one of the scientists who avoids using citation rate:

One of the most vocal critics of impact factors is Nobel Laureate Randy Schekman. His alternative is to prepare an impact statement – a concise summary of the impact you have had in your career.

It takes time and judgement to interview people and to read their work. However, outside academia employers manage to judge candidates without using a dubious numbering system. Can academia move in this direction too?

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