Making an impact: the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment

Submitted by Carlyn Zwarenstein on May 23, 2013 - 22:29

Open Medicine has just signed onto a brand-new, worldwide declaration called the San Francisco Declaration On Research Assessment, or DORA for short. The declaration represents a response to a widespread concern among science and other researchers about the journal impact factors that are used, in its words, "as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist's contribution, or in hiring, promotion or funding decisions".

Impact factors, as PLOS Medicine noted in an article back in 2006, are a sort of a game based on secretive rules (the decision on which articles are most citable rests with Thomson Reuters, which calculates impact factors). They are also the principal metric by which medical research is evaluated and careers advanced.  It's a game that too many journals, institutions and researchers try to play--to the detriment of scientific research.

The Declaration proposes guidelines for changing the way research is assessed. These guidelines are directed at different groups: funding agencies, institutions, publishers, researchers, organizations that supply metrics. It's still an open question exactly how each of these groups can more accurately assess the significance and quality of scientific output. Indeed, the impact of DORA itself remains to be seen. 

Still, it has become increasingly obvious to many researchers that impact factors are skewing research in a number of ways.  The Guardian offers a solid overview of the reasons that many heavyweights in the world of scientific research are getting behind DORA (an editorial in Science--on the way impact factor discourages risky and ground-breaking research, biases journals to under-publish important articles from less-cited fields, and is wrongly used to evaluate individual scientists--accompanied the Declaration's launch).

As of this writing, 167 organizations and 4278 individual scientists and researchers have signed. You can, too.

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