Re: Future UK RAEs to be Metrics-Based

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 15 Jun 2006 22:58:02 +0100

On Wed, 14 Jun 2006, Larry Hurtado wrote:

> Stevan Harnad is totally in favour of a "metrics based" approach to
> judging research merit with a view toward funding decisions, and greets
> the news of such a shift from past/present RAE procedure with unalloyed
> joy.

No, metrics is definitely *not* for all or most research funding decisions
-- which, as noted, are done by peer review for grant proposals.

Metrics is intended for the other component in the UK dual funding system,
in which, in addition to directly funded research, based on competitive
peer review of research bids, there is also a smaller, secondary (but
prestigious) top-slicing system, the RAE. It is the RAE that needed to
be converted to metrics from the absurd, wasteful and costly juggernaut
that it used to be.

> Well, hmmm. I'm not so sure (at least not yet). Perhaps there is more
> immediate reason for such joy in those disciplines that already rely
> heavily on a metrics approach to making decisions about researchers.

No discipline uses metrics systematically yet; moreover, many metrics
are still to be designed and tested. However, the only thing really
"metrics" means is the objective measurement of quantifiable performance
indicators. Surely all disciplines have measurable performance
indicators. Surely it is not true of any discipline that the only way,
or the best way, to assess all of its annual research output is by having
each piece individually re-reviewed after it has already been peer-reviewed
twice -- before execution, by a funding council's peer-reviewers as
a research proposal, and after execution, by a journal's referees as a
research publication.

> In the sciences, and also now social sciences, there are
> citation-services that count publications and citations thereof in a
> given list of journals deemed the "canon" of publication venues for a
> given discipline. And in these disciplines journal articles are deemed
> the main (perhaps sole) mode of research publication. Ok. Maybe it'll
> work for these chaps.

First, with an Open Access database, there need be no separate
"canon": articles in any of the world's 24,000 peer-reviewed journals
and congresses can count -- though some will (rightly) count for more
than others, based on the established and known quality standards and
impact of the journal in which it appeared (this too can be given a
metric weight). Alongside the weighted impact factor of the journal,
there will be the citation counts for each article itself, its author,
the co-citations in and out, the download counts, the hub/authority
weights, the endogamy/exogamy weights. etc. etc.

All these metrics (and many more) will be derivable for all disciplines
from an Open Access database (no longer just restricted to ISI's Web of

That includes, by the way, citations of books by journal articles -- and
also citations of books and journal articles *by* books, because although
most book authors may not wish to make their books' full-texts OA,
they can and should certainly make their books' bibliographic metadata,
including their bibliography of cited references, OA. Those book-impact
metrics can then be added to the metric harvest, citation-linked, counted,
and duly weighted, along with all the other metrics.

There are even Closed-Access ways of self-archiving books' digital
full-texts so they can be processed for semiometric analysis
(endogamy/exogamy, content overlap, proximity, lineage, chronometric
trends) by harvesters that do not make the full text available openly. All
disciplines can benefit from this.

> But I'd like to know how it will work in Humanities fields such as
> mine. Some questions, for Stevan or whomever. First, to my knowledge,
> there is no such citation-count service in place. So, will the govt
> now fund one to be set up for us? Or how will the metrics be compiled
> for us? I.e., there simply is no mechanism in place for doing
> "metrics" for Humanities disciplines.

All the government needs to do is to mandate the self-archiving of all
UK research output in each researcher's own OAI-compliant institutional
(or central) repository. (The US and the rest of Europe will shortly
follow suit, once the prototype policy model is at long last adopted by a
major player!) The resulting worldwide interoperable database will be the
source of all the metric data, and a new generation of scientometric and
semiometric harvesters and analysers will quickly be spawned to operate
on it, to mine it to extract the rich new generation of metrics.

There is absolutely nothing exceptional about the humanities (as long
as book bibliographies are self-archived too, alongside journal-article
full-texts). Research uptake and usage is a generic indicator of research
performance, and citations and downloads are generic indicators of
research uptake and usage. The humanities are no different in this
regard. Moreover, inasmuch as OA also enhances research uptake and
usage itself, the humanities stand to benefit from OA, exactly like
the other disciplines.

> Second, for us, journal articles are only one, and usually not deemed
> the primary/preferred, mode of research publication. Books still count
> quite heavily. So, if we want to count citations, will some
> to-be-imagined citation-counting service/agency comb through all the
> books in my field as well as the journal articles to count how many of
> my publications get cited and how often? If not, then the "metrics"
> will be so heavily flawed as to be completing misleading and useless.

All you need to do is self-archive your books' metadata and cited reference
lists and all your journal articles in your OAI-compliant Institutional
repository. The scientometric search engines -- like citebase, citeseer,
google scholar, and more to come -- will take care of all the rest. If you want
to do even better, scan in, OCR and self-archive the legacy literature too (the
journal articles plus the metadata and cited reference lists of books of yore
too; if you're worried about variations in reference citing styles: don't
worry! Just get the digital texts in and algorithms can start sorting them
out and improving themselves).

> Third, in many sciences, esp. natural and medical sciences, research
> simply can't be conducted without significant external funding. But in
> many/most Humanities disciplines truly groundbreaking and highly
> influential research continues to be done without much external
> funding.

So what is your point? That the authors of unfunded research, uncoerced by any
self-archiving mandate, will not self-archive? Don't worry. They will. They may
not be the first ones, but they will follow soon afterwards, as the power and
potential of self-archiving to measure as well as to accelerate and increase
research impact and progress become more and more manifest.

> (Moreover, no govt has yet seen fit to provide funding for
> the Humanities constituency of researchers commensurate with that
> available for Sciences. So, it's a good thing we don't have to depend
> on such funding!)

Funding grumbles are a worthy topic, but they have nothing whatsoever to do
with OA and the benefits of self-archiving, or metrics.

> My point is that the "metrics" for the Humanities
> will have to be quite a bit different in what is counted, at the very
> least.

No doubt. And the metrics used, and their weights, will be adjusted
accordingly. But metrics they will be. No exceptions there. And no regression
back to either human re-evaluation or delphic oracles: Objective, countable
performance indicators (for the bulk research output: of course for special
prizes and honours individual human judgment will have to be re-invoked, in order
to compare like with like, individually).

> Fourth, I'm not convinced (again, not yet; but I'm open to persuasion)
> that counting things = research quality and impact. Example: A number
> of years ago, coming from a tenure meeting at my previous University I
> ran into a colleague in Sociology. He opined that it was unnecessary
> to labour over tenure, and that he needed only two pieces of
> information: number of publications and number of citations. I
> responded, "I have two words for you: Pons and Fleischman". Remember
> these guys? They were cited in Time and Newsweek and everywhere else
> for a season as discovers of "cold fusion". And over the next couple
> of years, as some 50 or so labs tried unsuccessfully to replicate their
> alleged results, they must have been among the most frequently-cited
> guys in the business. And the net effect of all that citation was to
> discredit their work. So, citation = "impact". Well, maybe, but in
> this case "impact" = negative impact. So, are we really so sure of
> "metrics"?

Not only do citations have to be weighted, as they can and will be,
recursively, by the weight of their source (Proceedings of the
Royal Society vs. The Daily Sun, citations from Nobel Laureates vs citations
from uncited authors), but semiometric algorithms will even begin to have a go at
sorting positive citations from negative ones, disinterested ones from
endogamous ones, etc. Are you proposing to defer to individual expert
opinion in some (many? most? all?) cases, rather than using a growing
wealth and diversity of objective performance indicators? Do you really
think it is harder to find individual cases of subjective opinion going wrong
than objective metrics going wrong?

> Perhaps, however, Stevan can help me see the light, and join him in
> acclaiming the advent of metrics.
> L. W. Hurtado, Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology
> Director of Postgraduate Studies
> School of Divinity, New College
> University of Edinburgh

I suggest that the best way to see the light on the subjective of Open Access
Digitometrics is to start self-archiving and sampling the (few) existing
digitometric engines, such as

You might also wish to have a look at the chapter I recommended (no need to by
the book: it's OA: Just click!):

    Shadbolt, N., Brody, T., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2006) The Open
    Research Web: A Preview of the Optimal and the Inevitable, in Jacobs,
    N., Eds. Open Access: Key Strategic, Technical and Economic Aspects,
    chapter 21. Chandos.

Stevan Harnad
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Received on Thu Jun 15 2006 - 22:31:09 BST

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