Most scientists know that journal impact factors are a crude and sometimes misleading measure of published research. But the appeal of simple metrics will not go away. We see this in last month’s launch of a rival to the impact factor by the publishing giant Elsevier, and in the continued use of the metric to assess and reward individual researchers.
Here in Indonesia, the government has started to reward scientists who publish in high-impact journals with hard cash. The International Scientific Publication Award aims to encourage scientists to publish their research in international journals indexed by Scopus or Thomson Reuters. Individual scientists can obtain awards of up to 100 million rupiah (US$7,400) per published paper, depending on the journal’s impact factor.
Other developing countries adopt a similar approach. In Thailand, private universities give incentives to scientists who publish their research in peer-reviewed journals. In Vietnam, there is no monetary award, but international publications earn scientists ‘points’ that affect their career progression.
In Indonesia, the first round of the scheme saw the authors of 475 papers win extra money. It can make a significant difference: 100 million rupiah is more than 10 times the monthly salary of a scientist working under a government agency. The money can help to build long-term projects.
Under the current system, Indonesian scientists funded by the government receive only single-year grants. Sometimes, bureaucracy means that the money doesn’t arrive until the middle of the year, and the scientists have to write up final reports in November. According to Sangkot Marzuki, president of the Indonesian Academy of Science, this system makes it difficult for our researchers to publish in high-impact journals because the time is too tight for them to do rigorous and high-quality research.
The statistics seem to back this up. Out of 159 countries in the Nature Index database, 103 produced fewer than 100 scientific papers in the selected journals in 2015–16. Indonesia is one of them. We are the world’s fourth most populous country, yet we produced just 0.16% of the number of papers published by US scientists over the same period.
The disconnect between researchers and the government should be under the spotlight when policymakers in Indonesia or anywhere else want to formulate strategy to boost science. Our science might be small, but we can still do more to make the most of it.