Fewer numbers, better science


538453a-i1-0Rinze BenedictusFrank Miedema & Mark W. J. Ferguson write in Nature journal:

An obsession with metrics pervades science. Our institution, the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, is not exempt. On our website, we proudly declare that we publish about 2,500 peer-reviewed scientific publications per year, with higher than average citation rates.


A few years ago, an evaluation committee spent hours discussing which of several faculty members to promote, only to settle on the two who had already been awarded particularly prestigious grants. Meanwhile, faculty members who spent time crafting policy advice had a hard time explaining how this added to their scientific output, even when it affected clinical decisions across the country.

Publications that directly influenced patient care were weighted no higher in evaluations than any other paper, and less if that work appeared in the grey literature — that is, in official reports rather than in scientific journals. Some researchers were actively discouraged from pursuing publications that might improve medicine but would garner few citations. All of this led many faculty members, especially younger ones, to complain that publication pressure kept them from doing what really mattered, such as strengthening contacts with patient organizations or trying to make promising treatments work in the real world.

The institution decided to break free of this mindset. Our university medical centre has just completed its first round of professorial appointments using a different approach, which will continue to be used for the roughly 20 professors appointed each year. The institution is evaluating research programmes in a new way.

Read the full article in Nature