Please find below my personal thoughts about academic research in Social Sciences.

What about academic research?

Research is business

Research is a business like any business. Research articles written by professors are just products and as every product, it has to be produced, distributed and most importantly sold (if not bought). The distribution of research articles traditionally ranged from conferences to publications in books and journals; nowadays, the internet is also becoming more and more important to promote research. The selling of research corresponds to the impact of research articles and is measured by the number of citations. Nowadays, Google Scholar, by publicizing information about research works, has become the yardstick for measuring research impact.

Money and incentives for researchers should be on the production side, on the distribution side and on the selling side as well.

Research in rankings

Rankings of academic institutions are mainly based on research. Let’s take two examples: the Shanghai ranking (academic ranking of world universities or ARWU) and the ranking of the well-respected Times Higher Education review. The methodology used to rank institutions clearly focuses on the quality of research and especially on the impact of research.

The criteria of Shanghai ranking used to rank institutions in the category Social Sciences are the following:

  • 10% Alumni of an institution winning Nobel Prizes in Economics
  • 15% Staff of an institution winning Nobel Prizes in Economics
  • 25% Highly cited researchers
  • 25% Papers indexed in Social Science Citation Index
  • 25% Percentage of papers published in top 20% journals

The criteria of the ranking by the Times Higher Education review used to rank institutions in the category Social Sciences are the following:

  • 32.5% Citations – Research influence
  • 30% Research – Volume, income and reputation: 19.5% for reputational surveys about the research of the institution, 5.25% for research income, 4.5% for papers per academic and research staff and 0,75% Public research income / Total research income
  • 30% Teaching – The learning environment
  • 5% International mix – Staff and students
  • 2,5% Industry income – Innovation

These rankings clearly show that beyond publications, it is the quality of research and more importantly the impact of research that is taken into account. For Shanghai’s ranking, 75% of the criteria are based on the impact of research (Nobel Prizes, highly cited researchers and citations). In the ranking of the Times Higher Education review, a published and cited article has 8 times more impact than an article which is not cited but only published (even in an excellent review).

I believe that these rankings (especially Shanghai ranking) will play a more and more important role in the future by differentiating academic institutions. Academic institutions that will be (well) ranked will have a strong competitive advantage.

Research incentives for the 21st century

In order to improve research performance, I propose the following:

On the production side

  • Research budget for professors to cover production costs such as databases, research assistants, etc.

On the distribution side

  • Research budget for professors to cover distribution costs such as participation to conferences and promotion of research on the internet
  • Financial rewards for publications in top journals

On the selling side

  • Financial rewards for the impact of research (number of citations in top journals)
  • Financial rewards for being a highly cited researcher
  • Financial rewards for winning the Nobel Prize in Economics.