Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Citation/Impact and Real Impact. Are there too few publications venues for important scrupulous work?

There is no substitute for letters of reference that describe the contribution of the work and its impact on thinking and work in the field. Citation numbers are very rough indicators, and in general what you might notice are very high and very low numbers. In-between is unlikely to be helpful.  That means that those of who write letters must present good cases about contribution and impact. Impact and citation numbers are gamed all the time, but if they are not in accord with the letters it’s likely they will be ignored.  

Put differently, only those close to the top, but surely not there, will brag about the numbers. The work itself should speak to the field.

As for "luxury" (high impact, very high prestige) journals, such as Science, our fields are not endowed with such journals. (Full disclosure, I have published in Science.) All the problems were legion well before the luxury notion was bruited about. It’s not the luxury journals that make people into crooks. And it is not those deans and departments that do not carefully read the work and the letters—there’s a well-known phrase, “deans can count but they can’t read” (and there is empirical work testing this). I am sure that no one reading this is subject to this accusation, but… 

I doubt that dishonesty/paper is much greater than in the past. If you want a nightmare, put the dissertations granted by your department through Turnitin. I did that for a random sample (not from my department),  and ¾ of the Similarity Scores were over 5%, and they ranged into 16-18%.  (I eliminated stuff in quotation marks, stuff from the students’ papers, phrases less than 10 words, and the bibliography.)

I think open journals idea are fine, if the refereeing is good. If there are so many wonderful pieces of work, they surely should be well-published. I observe that all journals have some clunkers, and all have rejected Nobel-prize work.

People ought to try to make their work scrupulously strong, never send journals work that has not been reviewed by colleagues, and realize how difficult it is to do such work. My experience in reviewing has been somewhat disappointing (perhaps they choose to have me review the worst papers?).   We have to up our game.

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