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Responsible use of metrics and good scientific practice

The calculation of bibliometric metrics is sometimes intransparent, the underlying data are not always known and the indicators can sometimes be manipulated. Therefore, there are increasing efforts within science to use the indicators applied in science assessment appropriately and responsibly, and to reduce the focus on quantitative indicators in favor of qualitative assessment – in short: publications should be assessed less on the basis of numbers and more on the basis of their content and quality, and in the context of their discipline. Many funding agencies, as well as initiatives from the research community itself and research-related service institutions, have now taken clear positions on this.

The position of the German Research Foundation (DFG)

Since 2019, it has been mandatory for applicants for DFG funding to acknowledge and implement the Guidelines for Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice.

In its position paper on research assessment, the DFG emphasizes the relevance of responsible handling of bibliometrically collected data. The paper explicitly calls for an assessment of the scientific content rather than the publication format, and points out that different subject and discipline-specific publication cultures should be taken into account. In addition, the evaluation of scientific performance should take into account whether cross-process safeguards are adhered to, target audiences are reached, or whether open access publication formats are used.

In 2022, the DFG adopted measures to support a shift in the culture of research assessment, as part of this, will require, among other things, the use of an adapted CV template for all funding programmes from March 2023 in order to strengthen qualitative evaluation criteria over quantitative metrics. For example, indicators such as the h-index will no longer be asked for and will no longer play a role in the potential approval of funding.

San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)

The 2012 Declaration on Research Assessment also emphasizes the application and communication of good scientific practices. One of the main demands is to move away from the journal impact factor as a quality indicator and to transparently disclose indicators used for collection. The declaration has been signed by more than 21,700 individuals and organizations in 158 countries to date (as of May 2022), including the DFG.

Leiden Manifesto

The ten principles postulated in the Leiden Manifesto are intended to guide the use of metrics and bibliometric measures according to a predefined objective. Collected data and quantitative metrics are intended to support, but not solely determine, judgment with respect to a research assessment. For example, the addition of qualitative criteria to quantitative metrics is required. In addition, data used should be transparently disclosed and the corresponding indicators regularly updated.

The Metric Tide

This 2015 review makes recommendations for different stakeholders. These are based on principles for responsible use of metrics, such as diversity and reflexivity.