Science - November 17, 2010

Researchers massage their publications scores

Wageningen researchers use tricks to raise their publications scores. The can be deduced from Laurens Hessels' PhD thesis.

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Cliques of researchers name each other as co-authors in their scientific articles regardless of whether the person named took part in the research at all. And PhD students milk their research projects for all they are worth by writing a separate paper on every aspect of their findings. These are the ways in which researchers cope with the pressure to publish more and faster.

Bibliometric factors
These claims are made by Laurens Hessels, who receives his PhD at the University of Utrecht this Friday for a thesis called Science and the struggle for relevance. Hessels analysed evaluation reports and talked to 47 university researchers in the fields of chemistry, agriculture and biology. That must have included plenty of Wageningen researchers.
'The scientific community placed too much value on bibliometric indicators: how much you publish and how high the impact factor is of the journal in which you publish', Hessels told the Dutch national newspaper NRC Handelsblad. 'That is what researchers are judged by. Not just by their financers, but also by the visitation committees that (...) assess the faculties. The result is that publication no longer has the primary objection of scientific communication.'

Funding bodies
There are also frequent conflicts between policymakers and companies on the one hand and researchers on the other, says Hessels. 'Financers want research that contributes to the solutions social problems, but as a researcher or an institute you are judged by your scientific publications.' Researchers in biochemistry, who have always posed fundamental questions, find it harder to meet the criteria of the funding bodies than do scientists working on animal breeding, says Hessels. The later find the demands of their clients quite stimulating, in fact.
Hessels works at the Rathenau institute, an organization which studies the social effects of science and technology. The researchers he spoke to remain anonymous.  

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