Re-thinking excellence in research - RSC signs DORA

  • Date 18 Jun 2020

The Royal Society of Chemistry has signed the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), continuing our drive to modernise how we measure excellence in the chemical sciences.

We are the first major chemical society to sign up to the declaration’s principles to assess research outputs in a fair and balanced manner, and this follows the largest overhaul of our prizes and awards portfolio in 150 years.

Dr Helen Pain, our Acting CEO, said: “The benchmark for what constitutes excellence in science is long overdue a rethink – and we are proud to commit to DORA. We feel that we are already delivering on several of its recommendations as both a publisher and a professional body – from our policies on open citation data and author contribution statements, to how we assess membership admissions and awards – but want to use this opportunity to freshly assess our activities.

“At the core of DORA’s principles is the need to reduce reliance on the journal impact factor as a promotional tool – and we now make a firm commitment to do just that. Our next steps are to decide upon a suite of metrics and measures, describing journal and research impact in a way that is appropriate for our portfolio of journals and – most importantly – is meaningful for our community.”

DORA was developed in 2012 during the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco. Its principles highlight a need to assess research on its own merits and to use opportunities provided by online publication, such as unconstrained page length, in addition to adopting new indicators of significance and impact.

In our capacity as a publisher, we partner with Altmetrics to provide a range of article-level metrics, for example citations and social media mentions, and we provide unrestricted access to citation metadata as a participant in the Initiative for Open Citations (I4OC).

In signing DORA we are now committing to review any reference list constraints in research articles, and we will explicitly encourage authors to cite original work rather than review articles to promote credit where it is due.  Some of our journals already encourage author contribution statements – this policy will be expanded to the whole portfolio.

And as a professional body, our recent work on prizes and awards, inclusion and diversity and our positions on research culture and open-access science also reflect DORA’s case for rethinking assessment of scientific output.

Dr Pain said: “It is very important to recognise that behind every paper or top professor is a team, and behind every team is a history of inspiring teachers, mentors and collaborators.

“This is why our recent report Re-thinking Recognition presented our plan to champion skilled teams as well as individuals, celebrate the diversity of our community, acknowledge the opportunity-creators who go above and beyond their routine work, and reward those dedicated to solving global challenges.”

Another RSC report, Breaking the Barriers, raised concerns around the issue of narrow definitions of excellence – which are often related to having publications in high IF journals – disproportionately affecting women.

Similarly, our 2019 report Is publishing in the chemical sciences gender biased? found that ‘women are less likely than men to submit to journals with higher impact factors, and they are also more likely to have an article rejected without review’.

DORA program director Dr Anna Hatch said: “We welcome the commitment made by the Royal Society of Chemistry to promote responsible research assessment practices. The support and action of the entire academic community is needed to improve the ways that researchers are evaluated for hiring, promotion, and funding decisions.”

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