Heuristics, not plumage: A response to Osterloh and Frey's discussion paper on ‘Borrowed plumes’
At its simplest, ‘How to avoid borrowed plumes in academia’ by Margit Osterloh and Bruno Frey (Osterloh & Frey, 2020) is a paper about how using Journal Impact Factor (JIF) to judge academic papers and their authors is a bad idea; their suggestion of why people nevertheless persist in doing so; and what might be done to stop them. More broadly, it is a paper about heuristics (or rules-of-thumb) – why they are used; when they should not be used; and how to stop them being used in those contexts. I agree with Osterloh and Frey that JIF is a bad heuristic for judging research, but I find their arguments about why it is used and what might be done to stop people using it unconvincing and impractical. In this short Note, I argue that the use of heuristics is inevitable and, if effectively selected, they can improve decision-making. The challenge for an individual is to decide which heuristics are worth using. The policy challenge is to dissuade people from using inappropriate heuristics – and doing this requires good evidence on how and why the heuristics are being used, something that is missing from Osterloh and Frey’s paper.