Re: Future UK RAEs to be Metrics-Based

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2006 14:25:22 +0100 (BST)

Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2006 08:13:32 -0500
From: Stevan Harnad <>
To: ASIS&T Special Interest Group on Metrics <SIGMETRICS_at_LISTSERV.UTK.EDU>
Subject: Re: Future UK RAEs to be Metrics-Based

On 28-Mar-06, at 6:39 AM, Loet Leydesdorff wrote

> > SH: To repeat: The RAE itself is a predictor, in want of
> > validation. Prior funding correlates 0.98 with this predictor
> > (in some fields, and is hence virtually identical with it),
> > but is itself in want of validation.

> Do you wish to say that both the RAE and the multivariate regression
> method correlate highly with prior funding. Is the latter perhaps causal
> for research quality, in your opinion?
> The policy conclusion would then be that both indicators are very
> conservative. Perhaps, that is not a bad thing, but one may wish to
> state it straightforwardly.

The UK has a "dual" funding system: (1) conventional direct research
grant applications, with peer review of competitive proposals (RCUK) and
(2) top-sliced funding accorded to departments (not individuals) based on
past departmental research performance (RAE). The RAE was a monstrously
expensive and time-consuming exercise, with paper collection and
submission of all kinds of performance markers, including 4 full-text
papers, for peer-re-review by RAE panels. It turned out that the RAE's
outcome -- each departmental RAE "rank" from 1 to 5*, with top-sliced
funding given according to the rank and number of researchers submitted
-- was highly correlated with total citation counts for the department's
submitted researchers (r = .7 to .9+) and even more highly correlated
with prior RCUK funding (.98).

So RAE rank correlates highly with prior RCUK (and European) funding and
almost as highly with citations (and with other metrics, such as number
of doctorates accorded, etc.). The RAE rank is based on the data received
and evaluated by the panel -- not through multiple regression, but
through some sort of subjective weighting, including a "peer-re-review"
of already published, already peer-reviewed articles (although I very
much doubt many of them are actually read, the panels not being specific
experts in their subject matter as the original journal peer-reviewers
were meant to be -- it is far more likely that their ranking of the
articles is based on the reputation of the journal in which they were
published, and there is definitely pressure in the departments to
preferentially submit articles that have been published in high-quality,
high-impact journals).

So what is counted explicitly is prior funding, doctorates, and a few
other explicit measures; in addition, there is the "peer-re-review" --
whatever that amounts to -- which is no doubt *implicitly* influenced by
journal reputations and  impact factors. However, neither journal impact
factors nor article/author citations are actually counted *explicitly* --
indeed it is explicitly forbidden to count citations for the RAE. That
makes the high correlation of the RAE outcome with citation counts all
the more remarkable -- and less remarkable than the even higher
correlation with prior funding, which *is* counted explicitly.

The multiple regression ("metric") method is not yet in use at all. It
will now be tried out, in parallel with the next RAE (2008), which will
be conducted in the usual way, but doing the metrics alongside.

Prior funding counts are no doubt causal in the present RAE outcome
(since they are explicitly counted), but that is not the same as saying
that research funding is causal in generating research performance
quality! (Funding is no doubt causal in being a necessary precondition
for research quality, because without funding one cannot do research, but
to what extent prior funding levels in and of themselves are causes of
research quality variance over and above being a Matthew Effect or
self-fulfilling prophecy is an empirical question about how good a
predictor individual research-proposal peer-review is for allotting
departmental top-sliced finding to reward and foster research

Hence the causality question is in a sense a question about the causal
efficacy of UK's dual funding system itself, and the relative
independence of its two components. For if they are indeed measuring and
rewarding the very same thing, then RAE and the dual system may as well
be scrapped, and the individual RCUK proposal funding with the redirected
funds simply scaled up proportionately .

I am not at all convinced that the dual system itself should be scrapped,
however; just that the present costly and wasteful implementation of the
RAE component should be replaced by metrics. And those metrics should
certainly not be restricted to prior funding, even though it was so
highly correlated with RAE ranking. It should be enriched by many other
metric variables in a regression equation, composed and calibrated
according to each discipline's peculiar profile as well as its internal
and external validation results. And let us supplement conservative
metrics with the many richer and more diverse ones that will be afforded
by an online, open-access full-text corpus, citation-interlinked, tagged,
and usage-monitored.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Mar 28 2006 - 16:25:23 BST

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