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Our obsession with metrics is corrupting science

Calver, M.C.ORCID: 0000-0001-9082-2902 and Beattie, A. (2015) Our obsession with metrics is corrupting science. The Conversation, 1 June 2015 .

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"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

– William Bruce Cameron

Australian universities have been in the media in recent weeks for the dubious treatment of overseas students and the problem of plagiarism. But they are in serious trouble for another reason: their reliance on “bibliometrics” for major decision making.

Two international companies, Thomson Reuters and Elsevier, rate the apparent prestige of the journals in which academics' publications appear, and the frequency with which other authors refer to them, i.e. their citations. Two of the key summary results are the Hirsch index (or h-index), which reflects citations, and journal impact factor (JIF), claimed to reflect the importance of journals.

Ratings such as these dominate decisions on academic promotions, tenure, grant funding and the status of departments and universities. They have been universally adopted by universities in Australia because of perceived benefits of speed, cost-effectiveness and alleged objectivity. They underpin the government’s Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA).

This is of immediate national interest because of the links between these metrics, academic rankings and government funding of science and the universities. Also the potential harm to careers and the very way research is carried out.

Item Type: Non-refereed Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: The Conversation Media Group
Copyright: The Author
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