Research assessments based on journal rankings systematically marginalise knowledge from certain regions and subjects

Many research evaluation systems continue to take a narrow view of excellence, judging the value of work based on the journal in which it is published. Recent research by Diego ChavarroIsmael Ràfols and colleagues shows how such systems underestimate and prove detrimental to the production of research relevant to important social, economic, and environmental issues. These systems also reflect the biases of journal citation databases which focus heavily on English-language research from the USA and north and western Europe. Moreover, topics covered by these databases often relate to the interests of industrial stakeholders rather than those of local communities. More inclusive research assessments are needed to overcome the ongoing marginalisation of some peoples, languages, and disciplines and promote engagement rather than elitism.

Many research evaluation systems are built around vague notions of excellence. Excellent research is presented as that which advances the frontiers of science. Often, governments reward researchers who can show that their publications are “excellent”. The ultimate aim of this reward system is to support only the best research and researchers and to discourage “poor quality” research.

A common practice in many research evaluation systems is to judge the value of a work based on the journal in which it is published. These assessments are based on the assumption that research published in prestigious (“top”) journals is excellent, and therefore should be rewarded. The DORA declaration and the Leiden Manifesto have warned against this practice, yet journal-based evaluation systems continue to be used in many countries such as Spain, Brazil, Colombia, South Africa, and in influential global rankings such as the Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s or the THE World University Rankings. However, our recent research highlights the problems of relying on journal rankings for research assessment, and seriously questions this practice.

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