Hefce backs off citations in favour of peer review in REF

Stephen J Bensman notsjb at LSU.EDU
Wed Jun 24 09:25:10 EDT 2009

I hate to say it, but that is pretty much how Garfield recommended citations should be used and how they are used in US evaluations.  You don't use citations by themselves but to balance your subjective judgments.  For Garfield's recommendations, see the two URL below:






For the most the most recent US National Research Council Data and methodology, see the following URLs:






Given the politics of the thing, nobody in his right mind would use a purely metric approach, if he/she had any instinct for survival.    


Stephen J. Bensman

LSU Libraries

Louisiana State University

Baton Rouge, LA   70803


notsjb at lsu.edu

From: ASIS&T Special Interest Group on Metrics [mailto:SIGMETRICS at LISTSERV.UTK.EDU] On Behalf Of Stevan Harnad
Sent: Wednesday, June 24, 2009 3:26 AM
Subject: [SIGMETRICS] Hefce backs off citations in favour of peer review in REF





Hefce backs off citations in favour of peer review in REF

18 June 2009

By Zoë Corbyn <http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/biography.asp?contact=20> 

Research assessments in hard sciences will now be 'informed' by bibliometrics. Zoe Corbyn writes

The use of citations to determine the quality of academic work in the hard sciences is to be abandoned in favour of peer review in the new system being designed to replace the research assessment exercise.

However, information about the number of citations a scholar's work accrues could be provided to assessment panels to help "inform" their judgments in a range of subjects....


·         Richard Hull 20 June, 2009

So finally common sense prevails. But I would now like to know exactly which stupid, thoughtless person, blinded by the New Labour mantra of "evidence-based this that and the other", first proposed the hair-brained idea to use citations?? Time for some journalistic digging, I think. This person must be exposed, as they have effectively wasted a huge amount of the time and energy of HEFCE and indeed the academics who actively opposed the idea.

·         Stevan Harnad 22 June, 2009

It's probably alright that instead of scrapping panel rankings altogether and hard-wiring the outcome to metrics, the new REF will continuing doing rankings and metrics in parallel, using the metrics as advisory rather than binding. 

That's fine; it will give the metrics a better chance to be cross-validated against peer judgment (though the hybrid metric-influenced rankings of the new REF will not be as independent a criterion against which to validate metrics as the RAE rankings were, when they were not influenced by metrics). 

The important thing is to make the battery of candidate metrics as broad and rich as possible. It is true that metrics today are still relatively sparse, but with the growth of open access and a rich variety of web-based metrics emerging therefrom, the power and scope of metrics will now grow and grow. 

About the possibility of abuse: Yes, one can abuse individual metrics. Downloads are the easiest to abuse. But genuine downloads generate genuine citations, and the correlation is there and can be measured. There are other intercorrelations in multiple metric profiles too. There are endogamy/exogamy metrics: Self-citations, co-author citations, author-circle citations, same-institution citations, same-journal citations. With these, anomalies and abuses can be detected, named and shamed. 

Multiple metrics create a pattern, a profile. If you artificially manipulate one of them (say, downloads, or citing others in your institution) it will be detectable as a deviation from the normal profile. Once a few of these abuses are prominently exposed and shamed, that will create a strong deterrent against trying such tricks, since the objective is the exact opposite: to increase one's prestige, not to tarnish it. 

And unlike (some) individual metrics, multiple metric profiles are almost impossible to manipulate jointly: Try writing software to generate bogus downloads of your work looking as if they all come from different IPs the world over, and then try to generate the non-institutional citations that would normally be the correlate of such high downloads. Even that 2-metric trick is not easy to accomplish! 

Stevan Harnad University of Southampton

REPLY TO RICHARD HULL: ON EXPOSING THE CULPRIT -- Harnad, S. (2001) Research access, impact and assessment. Times Higher Education Supplement 1487: p. 16. http://cogprints.org/1683/

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