The Kollectiv hears that, yet again, the thorny question of recognition of bringers-of-income into OUTM is being debated...with the loved-by-Cheryl-and-Daya-and-Tim-and-Kit solution of not giving anybody anything because it just encourages salami-slice publication in lousy journals, again coming to the fore.

Confused?  Link out to hereherehere and especially here for enlightenment - but do hurry back.... 

The last post in particular highlights from personal experience just how active researchers fill OUTM's coffers:

  • 3 yrs worth of PhD and MSc graduating students = 4 PhD, 4 MSc (8 Hons graduates not counted)
    Income to OUTM :
    Subsidy @R130 000 / MSc, R270 000 / PhD: R 1 600 000 for R533 000 / yr
    Publication subsidy @R90 000 / unit, 20 papers: R1 800 000 for R600 000 / yr
    Total: R1 133 000 / yr

 And STILL people are saying that, because of the hoary old chestnut that a bad publication brings in as much subsidy from the government as a good one, people will publish bitty stuff in lousy-but-ISI-recognised journals.

This is a straw man of very little worth, and in any case, is easily set on fire. 

 Consider: Academic A publishes 10 articles in 2009, in journals with an average impact factor of 1.  This would bring in - if all authors were from UCT - 10 x R120 000 = R1.2 million.  Academic B publishes 5 articles in the same period, in journals with an average impact factor of 2, for an income to OUTM of R0.6 million.  Right, so sleaze is rewarded for A, and excellence is punished for B, in terms of relative income - but it is so easy to fix!

Simply tie recognition of publications to relative worth, in terms of publishing quality.

How outrageously simple a solution is that??  In this altogether more worthy straw man, impact factor considerations alone would determine that multiplying A's net worth by 1, and B's by 2, would give the same figure - from which relative rates of recompense could be determined.

However, and as much as some of us might wish it to be the case, all disciplines are not equal in terms of IFs of journals, and this does need to be taken into account: for instance, while we would all aspire to publish in Nature or Science, with their astronomical IFs, we are mostly constrained to publish in discipline-limited journals - and the top-scoring journals in each field may vary very widely in IF scores.

And the ISI Web of Science site very kindly lists discipline-specific rankings of journals in terms of their IF scores...making it quite a trivial exercise to determine - say, for theoretical physics, or biochemistry - which are the top-ranking discipline-specific journals, and to rank individual publications accordingly.  In fact, the Science Faculty for one currently asks that IFs be listed for all articles claimed in the yearly assessments - so it is in fact very easy to extract the necessary info to determine relative impacts of publications, especially if Departments (as guardians of disciplines) keep a league table of IFs.

With the corollary being that the information is used to calculate a fair return on output to individual researchers...!

Another straw man that is raised, however, is the one that publications are rewarded already - by promotion and advancement.  While this is partially - and only partially - true, it ignores the elephant in the lab: the soft money-funded folk whose contributions to the fiscus are nowhere acknowledged, and who could supplement their own (sometimes precarious) existence with publication subsidy.

Another beast in the room is the question of postgraduate student subsidy: this is a concrete and easily attributable source of very real money for our institution, yet is also not ever recognised at the level of the individual.  And it should be!  Consider: UCT does not contribute directly to the teaching of any higher-than-Hons postgraduate; rather, it takes fees from them, sometimes takes money from the researchers supervising them for their space and overhead, if grants allow it, and allows them space and electricity and library access.  Meaning postgrads are supported in terms of working expenses by researchers, and very often in terms of living expenses as well.  Yet the government gives us R130 000 per completed MSc and R270 000 per completed PhD...which pretty much equals what I pay them as bursaries!!

Plenty of room for improvement in the standard OUTM model, folks.