The report outlines not only reasons why researchers publish and their diverse methods for doing so, but also the tensions between researchers’ desires to enhance knowledge and understanding and funders’ goals of seeing social and economic return on their investment. The pressures from funders (especially the government) to “demonstrate impact,” especially strongly conveyed (in the UK) through the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), very strongly influence (and limit) researchers’ publishing decisions. The major findings of the report, while not surprising, highlight the needs both for clarity and for flexibility in the publishing assessment process:
1. Researchers need clearer and more consistent guidance on the comparative value placed by funders, departments, and institutions on the various and increasingly diverse communication channels open to them. Researchers currently feel great pressure to publish articles in “high impact” journals, almost to the exclusion of any other venue, even if journal articles are not the best vehicle for disseminating their research. If funders, departments, and institutions are open to a variety of publishing modes, they need to spell out clearly what they would find acceptable and reward dissemination that use those outlets.
2. Because there is no one standard across disciplines for how multiple authors on a paper or other work are listed, practice can vary widely – but assessment of this work by those determining “contribution” often fails to take these differences into account. The report suggest that funders, societies, and publishers might work together to recommend “best practices” in this area.
3. Citation practices vary widely, depending on the age and discipline of the researcher and on limitations to citations placed upon researchers by journals. Particular shifts show an increasing focus on citing already well-known authors or works published in only certain journals or by selected presses, as well as to what is available online. These citation predispositions, combined with restrictions that some journals put on the number of citations allowed within a piece, may severely curtail the usefulness of bibliographic citations as a useful assessment measure.
4. The RAE heavily influences researchers in their selection of the journals in which to publish and in their publishing output (i.e., they are rewarded for journal articles almost to the exclusion of any other output) – and researchers are very concerned that discipline-specific contributions are not recognized and rewarded equally within the format of the Research Excellence Framework by which everyone’s work is judged.
Read the full report and supporting documents at http://www.rin.ac.uk/communicating-knowledge.
–Rebecca, CDRS Director