H-index, Impact Factor, citations, number of publications per year – metrics all around the scientist. The currency of science. Has it gone that far that the metrics is about to kill scientific quality?
This “quantity mantra” – the obsession with measuring scientific quantity – and not quality- was recently criticized by Joern Fischer, Euan G. Ritchie and Jan Hanspach in TREE. They argue that metrics has lead to an increased number of publications, larger research consortia and more administration. More papers published means more time spent on reading papers, reviewing papers and editing papers. With a general limit of 24 hours per day, that inevitably means less time for other activities. And it’s particularly reflection time and time spent to stimulate creativity that is suffering most, according to Fischer et al. This in turn, leads to decreased quality of science. Is this the way we want to go? The paper finishes with “Starting with our own university departments (but not stopping there), it is time to take stock of what we are doing. We must recreate spaces for reflection, personal relationships, and depth. More does not equal better.” The question is, How?
As a reply to Fisher et al.’s paper, Panu Halme, Atte Komonen and Otso Huitu transfer the problem from individual researchers and departments to science politics and funding strategies. They argue, that the main problem lies in the absence of scientific thinking among senior scientists. “Senior scientists rarely enjoy the luxury of having time to read about and contemplate the theory of their field, let alone participate in the gathering of primary data in the field or laboratory. Halme et al.’s solution to this problem, and suggested mean to leave room for slower science and increased quality, is to limit the numbers of students associated with each professor, and funding forms enabling seniors to focus exclusively on science.
In a reply, Fischer et al. actually comes up with a number of hands-on solutions, both for individual scientists, department leaders, science politicians and decision makers and for funding agencies.
Is it the increased quantity of publication that actually causes the increased stress for scientists? And how should the problem best be solved? Bottom up or top down? How do you release time to think deep, scientific thoughts and to reflect over your research?