Heuristics, not plumage: A response to Osterloh and Frey's discussion paper on ‘Borrowed plumes’

Change log

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.

Bibliometrics, Heuristics, Journal impact factor, Normalisation, Research evaluation, Research policy
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Research Policy
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Elsevier BV