Bean-counting scientific quality?

An article on the BBC News website highlights concerns over the increasing focus of donor agencies on ‘bean-counting’ publications as a measure of scientific quality (The corruption of science?).

According to the author of the article, “In the old days it didn’t matter so much which journal research was published in. Now it counts for everything.”

The article cites Professor Peter Lawrence, an emeritus professor at Cambridge University as saying that, in the past, grants were awarded by “people reading the [research] papers and determining whether it contained sparks of originality and quality of rigour and argument. Now that aim has been more or less abandoned.” But now scientists are evaluated on how many papers they publish in top flight journals and how often they are cited.

This is a dangerous trend, especially for development-oriented research like that done in the CGIAR centres. Communication efforts aimed at getting information to the end users — publications, presentations, field days and the like — drop off the radar and gain no credit from the bean counters. And yet without these efforts, less of the research output will reach those who can use it to make a difference to people’s lives.

Let’s hope that we can get back to some of the old ways in judging the quality of research, where a broader view was taken of the value of communication outputs in all media.

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