This week’s longread isn’t really about Big Deals, but it’s even more important, because it gets to the root cause of the Big Deal problem (and every problem) in academic publishing: the promotion and tenure system in most academic departments and its dysfunctional fixation on publishing in prestigious, “high impact” journals in a given field. This creates strong incentives for academics to sign away their articles (and their copyrights) to the publishing oligopolies, who have long ago cornered the market on “high impact” journal titles. If the journal is paywalled, then the science is inaccessible and must be ransomed back at a massive upcharge. Even if the journal is open access, or hybrid, the scholar is extorted for absurd fees in exchange for the tenure-securing placement.
But it turns out that fixing this problem is not that hard. The answer lies in editing a boring document buried somewhere in the bowels of your department’s website: the promotion and tenure policy. And that’s what the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland has done. Not only do their new tenure guidelines omit any damaging reference to desirable placement in “high impact” journals, they actively caution against considering journal placement, complete with citations to research that shows the harm of doing so, and an expression of allegiance to the principles of DORA, which commit signatories to replacing journal metrics with more nuanced and qualitative approaches to research assessment. Here’s a key passage from the policy:
Note on the use of citation counts and journal impact factors. In keeping with the recommendations stated in the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (sfdora.org) and other consensus statements [12, 8] the department discourages the use of impact factors and citation countsinevaluatingfaculty.2 Recentresearchraisesconcernsabouttheirvalidityasindicesofresearch quality or impact [2, 1, 5, 20] and concerns over the potential for their use to adversely impact some groups more than other (in particular women and scholars from underrepresented groups) [e.g., 19, 10, 21].
As befits a longread, the full policy is worth your time. In addition to ditching the bogus journal metrics, the policy affirmatively encourages open and transparent research practices, and instructs evaluators to consider the added time and effort involved in these practices when considering a scholar’s research output. In other words, a scholar who takes the necessary time to do research the right way will almost certainly have lower output than one who cuts these corners; the Maryland psych department’s policy calls out this fact to insure that corner-cutting isn’t rewarded.
For years (decades!) reformers have lamented that no matter how rigorous, efficient, ethical, or otherwise “high quality” a new publishing outlet may be (whether it’s a new journal, a new preprint server, or a new data repository), nothing will stop the flow of scholarship into the hands of predatory commercial publishers until these promotion and tenure policies change. Well, one just did. The School of Data Science here at UVA has a similar policy that rewards open practice and recognizes the tradeoffs involved. May they be the green shoots of a flourishing ecosystem to come.