A small kerfuffle in Dutch academia over changes in rewards and recognition for work in academia

There is a change in the Dutch academic air. There is a broad movement, fuelled by those who pay for most of the grants, to change how we reward and recognizes individual contributions to academia. The bottom line is simple: journal impact factors and the number of publications might be used to assess these contributions, but they are just not the right metrics. They incentivize behavior that is not desirable, but most of all – a focus on scientific excellence makes that we are not valuing important work in academia. To strive for scientific excellence might be a good thing, but teaching, patient care and outreach should also be valued.

On that background, a group of 170 (mostly senior) researchers published an open letter arguing against this new approach. Their main argument – impact factor and Indices are, despite its flaws, the current international standard, and leaving them behind us will jeopardize the international standing of our researchers. A lot can be said of that point of view – it is old-fashioned, it is short-sighted, and it is the story of only the winners of the old system. But then again, they are right, aren’t they?

Yes and no. Yes – impact factors are indeed a hallmark of various hiring and promotion procedures in a large part of international academia. No – more and more organizations come around and see that the way we evaluate contributions to science should go beyond a counting how many “impact points” one has collected. DORA has been signed by many Dutch organizations like VSNU, NLU, NFUKNAWNWO en ZonMw but most importantly, the European Research Council just joined as well. And also, the various new formats for recognition and rewards in the Netherlands just add the possibilities to explain your success story, which might or might not include a publication in Nature.

This makes this movement not fringe, weird or leaving out those people who were successful in the old system. It adds possibilities. The premise of their main point – the Netherlands is one of the first countries to make this change – is true and this has consequences. It is up to Dutch Academia to move from idea to policy in a healthy way. That means that some ideas of these researchers need to be taken into account in order not to create a split civitas academia.

These ideas are the backbone of a response that a bunch of young members of the scientific enterprise wrote – me included. The little kerfuffle even reached the regular news media, with a short piece in the Volkskrant.