The Aspiration to be Good is Bad: The ‘Impact Factor’ Hurts both Science and Society

By Yehudah L. Werner.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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The fruitful aspiration of researchers to be classified as ‘good’ has been mounting, driven by the quantification of research quality and especially by the impact factor (IF). This paper briefly reviews examples of the many known or hypothetical fringe evils. Many universities now evaluate academics by the IF of the journals in which they publish. Because journals, fighting for their IFs, now select papers for brevity and for forecast of being quoted, this mal-affects science in several ways: (1) Much information remains unpublished. (2) Some projects are published in splinters. (3) Scientists avoid unpopular subjects. (4) Innovations are suppressed. (5) Small research fields are being deserted. (6) Active authors recruit inactive coauthors whose name could land the paper with a higher-IF journal, which generates assorted complications. (7) Journals striving to elevate their IF adorn their advisory boards with dignitaries who do not endeavor to help the journal. The IF also shortchanges society more directly, through the ‘quality’-driven choice of research subjects: (1) Academics concentrate on ideas and theories and avoid publishing facts of potential service to society. Thus biologists discuss how species arise, rather than describe new species to enable their conservation. (2) Professors, fighting for their resumés, regard academic neophytes as paper-manufacturing manpower and hinder their developing intellectual independence. Finally, some potential partial remedies are proposed.

Keywords: Academic Appointments, Candidate Evaluation, Career Development, Community Service, Impact Factor, Manuscript Length, Multiple Authorship, Publication Policy, Research Priority, Student Independence

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.99-106. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.545MB).

Prof. Yehudah L. Werner

Professor Emeritus of Zoology, Department of Evolution, Systematics and Ecology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 91904 Jerusalem, Israel

My MSc (1956) and PhD (1961, suma cum laude), both in Zoology, are from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I taught in various capacities from 1953 to 1999, and continue to research. My research concerns the local reptile fauna and gecko lizards as whole animals and as a group with evolution, with some emphasis on vocal communication, especially structure and function of the ear. My sabbaticals were at U Princeton (Psychology), UWA Nedlands (Physiology), U Chicago (Anatomy), Technical U Munich (Zoology), Western Australian Museum (Herpetology), U PA Philadelphia (Otorhinolaryngology), and finally U Ryukyus, Okinawa; National U Singapore; U Hawaii, Hilo; U West Indies, Trinidad; and U Münster (behavioral ecology). I helped to found the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (1953), and have done conventional turns of duty as chairperson of the Zoological Society of Israel (now honorary member) and on the executive committees of international congresses (Herpetology, Vertebrate Morphology). For 17 years I edited the Israel Journal of Zoology (1973-89).