Using interdisciplinary “exchange rates” to evaluate publications across disciplines

Or, how to compare apples with oranges

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Academic research performance is typically assessed on the basis of scientific productivity. While the number of publications may provide an accurate and useful metric of research performance within one discipline, interdisciplinary comparisons of publication counts prove much more problematic. To solve this problem, Timo Korkeamäki, Jukka Sihvonen, and Sami Vähämaa introduce interdisciplinary “exchange rates”, which can be used to convert the publication records of individuals or institutions to a common scale. Adopting such an approach can increase the objectivity of cross-disciplinary comparisons by eliminating disparities in publishing potential across disciplines.

Deans, promotion and recruiting committees, administrators, and funding agencies are constantly faced with the challenge of evaluating research performance across disciplines. These comparisons are far from straightforward as different disciplines have different publishing standards which ultimately dictate the rate of publishing and publication volumes. As a result, researchers in some disciplines are inherently less likely to produce a high number of publications, and so find themselves at a competitive disadvantage relative to scholars from disciplines where high publication volumes are the norm.

It is important that faculty members from different disciplines are treated, evaluated, and incentivised fairly and objectively. Publications in highly regarded peer-reviewed journals are key to hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions, and also influence salaries and teaching loads at many universities. Therefore, any perceived inequities in cross-disciplinary performance assessments are likely to lead to poor motivation among faculty members who feel that their disciplines are unfairly treated. Moreover, publication records are used by administrators, governments, and funding agencies as the primary criterion for allocating resources and funding to universities, and between faculties, departments, and individual scholars within universities. Given the pivotal role of interdisciplinary comparisons of publication records, it is surprising how little research attention the relative valuation of top-tier publications in business disciplines has received.

This LSE blog post is based on the authors’ article, “Evaluating publications across business disciplines: Inferring interdisciplinary “exchange rates” from intradisciplinary author rankings”, published in the Journal of Business Research (DOI: 10.1016/j.jbusres.2017.11.024).

Martin Delahunty

Managing Director, InspiringSTEM Network

Founder & Managing Director, InspiringSTEM. Formerly, Global Director at Springer Nature. Highly experienced scientific technical and medical publisher. Extensive experience of working with international science research organisations, universities and academic researchers working on journals, digital communities and conferences. Proud UK Stem Ambassador. Experienced speaker and presenter. European Irish.