The ERA era of measuring research output in Australia
Colin Steele amused the audience with the story that the UK medical council showed that having a colon ":" in the title of a paper increased its ranking and that as a result more authors put colons in their titles (and Colin made the obvious pun about colons and medicine).
Andrew Calder, Director, Research Performance and Analysis, ARC, then spoke. He pointed out that not just one measure would be used for rating research, but several measures combined may be. This suggests a logical flaw in the argument: if each of the measures used is not a good one, then adding them together does not give a better result. He explained that hundreds of experts will be carrying out reviews, rather than some automated metric. As discussed later, I suggest an automated metric is likely to be more accurate and more accountable. Also the cost of carrying out the manual evaluations must be high. Ranked conferences and journals are used, with the proportion varying by disciplines (conferences are more important in IT for example).
John Wellard, Director ANU Research Office, pointed out that the ERA is likely t be used by the federal government for measuring the performance of universities and deciding funding to them. One flaw with the process John described was the use of the term "employed". As an Adjunct Lecturer I am not "employed" by the ANU, although I am regarded as a staff member. Clearly if I write a paper it should count as an ANU paper (the ANU staff keep asking me for papers to add to their census list).
Professor Andrew Cockburn, Director,
Professor John Houghton,
As a solution Danny suggested that the measures should support the processes the disciple use, rather than forcing a rigid "publication" measure on them. She suggested "Web 2" measures. Danny also suggested that the social impact should be measured, pointing out this might be from practitioners using research results, rather than other researchers citing this. This all make sense to me, as I don't publish research papers myself, but do use them in industry publications. Therefore my work does not count towards the ANU's publication output, nor does my citations of that work. However, in terms of impact on the community, in the IT discipline, my publications and the papers I cite, probably have more effect on the community than all other IT papers published by ANU researchers. This is because my work is read by practitioners and government policy makers and implemented by them. Implementation is direct by IT professionals writing computer programs and implementing hardware using the techniques I suggest, by companies and government agencies implementing these as policies and through implementation in standards and laws.
Dr Claire Donovan, Lecturer in Sociology, ANU, talked about Research Impact – the Wider Dimension.
At that point there was supposed to be 40 minutes of questions and discussion. However, as the speakers ran over time there was only 4 minutes left for questions. This perhaps illustrated a problem with traditional unviersity publishing. Apart from the invitation to the event with the names and the topics of the speakers, the ANU published no materials as a part of this process. Apart from my blog posting, there are no details available as a result of this event. In terms of impact, this event will therefore have little effect as few people will be able to find details.
The ARC has produced Ranked Journal and Conference Lists. Ranked journals require an ISSN (this is a problem for conferences). Andrew Calder pointed out that a publication in a "B" ranked journal may be better for the author, than an "A" ranked one, if it results in more local citations.
I did a quick search of the list to find publications I am familiar with. Curiously I could only find one of the hundred or so volumes of the "Conferences in Research and Practice in Information Technology":
|17766||B||Journal of Research and Practice in Information Technology||8||Information and Computing Sciences||1443-458X||0004-8917|
|19280||B||Australasian Journal of Information Systems||806||Information Systems||1702||Cognitive Science||1449-8618||1326-2238||1039-7841|
|42358||ACS/IEEE International Conference on Computer Systems and Applications||AICCSA||C||08||Information and Computing Sciences||12||Built Environment and Design|
In my view the answer to ranking papers is reasonably obvious and along the lines Danny suggested. As research publishing goes online it will evolve to include social networking techniques, which can measure the ranking of people based on peer assessment. Essentially the current publication metrics are a crude form of such rankings, but these can be improved, refined and made much cheaper and more audit-able. There is now a credible body of research literature on this topic, but which is unknown to all but a few IT researchers. An example of how to do this is Soo Ling Lim's work, reported at ANU on Thursday: "Using Social Networks to Identify and Prioritise Software Project Stakeholders".