The merit of researchers is often assessed by the impact factors (IF) of publications they have published in. Recruiters and funders, most often than not, use this as a measure of scientific intellect.
Is impact factor the ultimate yardstick to measure a scientist’s intellect? Does a scientist who publish in low IF journals all his life contribute lesser to science than his colleague who has been a regular on A-list journals? How about multiple-author articles – how does one assess the contribution of individual authors? And what happens to tonnes of unpublished data – failed experiments or junked hypotheses – that don’t make it to journals in the first place?
Questions such as these have bothered Varma D Aadi Narayana, a ‘PhD dropout’ from the University of Hyderabad. He and a group of like-minded young scientists came together to understand what the scientific community around the world felt about the issue. They conducted a two-question survey among 2652 scientists. The two seemingly simplistic questions were: Are all authors publishing in high impact publications high in intellect? (67% agreed). Are all authors publishing in low impact publications low in intellect? (2% agreed).
“We realised that there is a clear mismatch between impact factor and intellect. And we believe there was a missing factor too,” Aadi says.
In trying to figure out what this missing factor was, they consulted some eminent Indian scientists such as Seyed E Hasnain, G P Talwar, Rakesh Bhatnagar and Anil K Tyagi. “Researchers have started shifting focus from journals to individual articles. But the only factor that can help assess individual articles is citation metrics. If I am a young researcher, do I need to wait for years to get citations to prove my worth among peers? Is it an ideal situation in a fast moving world?” he asks.
All this churning has given shape to a start-up venture called Profeza which, Aadi says, aims to introduce accountability and transparency into scientific communications. The start-up aims to shift focus from journals to individual articles and extend it further to individual authors in an article.
So, how does it work? Profeza has included pubmed database into its portal enabling users all over the globe to account for their contributions against corresponding articles. So, next time a researcher applies for a postdoc job, a tenure track position, or as a scientist in the industry, prospective recruiters can see the number of articles in his/her kitty and precise individual contributions to these articles. Recruiters or funding agencies can then assess his/her competence independent of impact factors.
According to its makers, Profeza is a social journal being built on the framework of a scientific publication that allows researchers to share their work published elsewhere in a scientific manner. Aadi says the architecture of the Profeza portal will also make it easy for researchers to share failed experiments or failed hypotheses. “It will be easy for researchers to share raw or repeat data and detailed protocols and in turn provide some tools to assess the academic competence of authors.”
Broadly speaking, this would enable researchers to prove their competence independent of their articles published in high or low impact publications. As a metrics tool, it could also minimise conflicts of interest.