A resonant blogpost is the gift that keeps on giving. One of the latest comments in my Sick of Impact Factors polemic bemoaning the corrosive effects of journal impact factors on scientific lives provided a link to a quite wonderful paper.
I missed Alexis Verger’s comment when it dropped into my blog on August 31st. By the time I had caught up with it, a colleague at work had also emailed me the paper — ‘Evaluating how we evaluate‘ by Ronald Vale (PDF)* — suggesting it might be of interest.
It certainly was.
Vale’s paper provides a lucid and considered examination of the measures that we in the scientific community use to assess one another. He makes it clear that on too many counts we are doing a poor job of evaluation.
The first section, on the pernicious effects of journal impact factors, rang many bells with me of course, but Vale goes beyond this single issue to look at how numbers of publications, lab sizes, scientific collaborations and contributions to training and education are all too often judged numerically, and therefore superficially.
Please read it. Every working scientist should. Vale reaches deep into his subject and touches on problems that many sense but feel unable to resolve, in particular the unbalanced demands of research and teaching and the difficulty of sustaining a scientific career. From my reading it was clear that Vale’s anodyne title and dispassionate style belie strongly held convictions. I can’t do justice to his paper with a summary and in any case prefer not to delay your own reading but, as a taster, here he is on community and education:
“While scholarly achievement and grants sustain the core mission of research institutions, education and community service also are important and creative endeavors; they contribute immensely to the culture of an institution and the future of our profession. These efforts should be respected and deserve more than lip service during a review for academic promotion. Academic evaluation predicated too narrowly on papers and impact factors steers young scientists away from educational/community activities if these activities contribute only minimally to their overall evaluation. This sends the wrong message to young scientists, especially at a stage when many desire both to be altruistic and to advance their careers.”
Vale, finally, is in no doubt where the responsibility lies and I couldn’t agree more.
“As stewards of our profession, academic scientists have a collective responsibility to consider how to disseminate knowledge through publications and how to advance graduate students to postdocs, postdocs to assistant professors, and assistant professors to tenure and beyond. These processes are not out of our hands, predetermined, or immutable.”