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Letter to the Editor

How Should Research Productivity Be Assessed in Early Career Psychiatric Researchers? Research Funding Versus Scientific Productivity

Jose de Leon, MD

Published: September 15, 2009

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How Should Research Productivity Be Assessed in Early Career Psychiatric Researchers? Research Funding Versus Scientific Productivity

To the Editor: Recently, Goldberg1 explained in a guest editorial that fundraising has become the dominant professional activity of academic physicians. The present letter further suggests that universities have become "greedy." The goal is no longer to obtain funding in order to perform clinical research and improve patient care; the goal is the funding itself. As Dr Goldberg1 explained concerning our current era of economic crisis and lack of grant funding, focusing on research funding is a death sentence for clinical research and an invitation for early career psychiatric researchers to leave their academic departments.

First, this letter proposes that there is need for an alternative method for assessing research productivity within academic departments. Second, decreasing the focus on funding not only may stabilize the futures of early career academic psychiatrists, it also may save US psychiatry from the current judgment of US newspapers and even an international medical journal2 that the profession is engulfed in corruption.

This author believes that in assessing clinical researchers, the subjective peer review of other colleagues and trainees cannot be ignored, but in education the objective assessment of educators is the wave of the future. The globalization of clinical research and its journals has converted the number of citations of an article into a relatively reasonable measure of its relevance. The Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is known for classifying journals according to an "impact factor."3 However, this author is much more interested in ISI’s use of citations to assess the quality of articles; quality is measured by an "h-index"4 provided on ISI’s Web site. An h-index of 10 indicates that the researcher has at least 10 articles with 10 citations each in the literature (≥ 10 other articles quoting the researcher’s article). The reader will notice that it grows in exponential fashion. The absolute minimum number of citations for an index of 10 is 100 citations, and an index of 100 requires at least 10,000 citations. The h-index varies considerably among research fields. The highest-ranked psychiatrists have h-indexes in the 90s. Not many clinical psychiatric articles have more than 20 or 30 citations after 3 or 4 years; therefore, few senior US clinical psychiatric researchers reach an h-index of 20. The context of the author’s h-index needs to be considered, too (eg, author’s thinking versus collaborations, author’s most important and original articles). Other systems for assessing article relevance are being developed.5

Changing the focus from number of dollars to number of highly quoted articles seems important not only for helping to assess early career psychiatrists when there is almost no research funding, but also because this shift may save the damaged reputation of US psychiatry.2 We need to eliminate the greed from US academic departments in medical schools and from clinical research. Greedy medical schools appear to have gotten what they deserve; they appear to have selected and rewarded clinical researchers on the basis of greed. In the process, greed has destroyed the public reputation of some clinical researchers in medicine; moreover, clinical researchers in psychiatry are being cited as prime examples of corruption in medicine.2


1. Goldberg JF. Whither the academic psychiatrist? (editorial) J Clin Psychiatry. 2008;69(11):1792-1793. PubMed doi:10.4088/JCP.v69n1110

2. Lenzer J, Brownlee S. Naming names: is there an (unbiased) doctor in the house? BMJ. 2008;337:a930. PubMed doi:10.1136/bmj.a930

3. Garfield E. Journal impact factor: a brief review. CMAJ. 1999;161(8):979-980. PubMed

4. Hirsch JE. An index to quantify an individual’s scientific research output. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005;102(46):16569-16572. PubMed doi:10.1073/pnas.0507655102

5. Bergstrom CT, West JD. Assessing citations with the Eigenfactor metrics. Neurology. 2008;71(23):1850-1851. PubMed doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000338904.37585.66

Jose de Leon, MD

Author affiliations: Department of Psychiatry, University of Kentucky, and the Mental Health Research Center at Eastern State Hospital, Lexington, Kentucky. Financial disclosure: No commercial organizations had any role in the writing of this letter for publication. Dr de Leon is currently a co-investigator in a National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovation Research Grant awarded to Genomas, Inc. In the last year (since January 1, 2008), he had no conflict of interest with any pharmaceutical company. He personally develops his presentations for lecturing and has never lectured using any pharmaceutical company presentation and has never been a consultant for pharmacogenetic or pharmaceutical companies. He has no relationship or connection with the Institute for Scientific Information described in this letter or other similar institutions that assess article influence. Funding/support: None reported. Acknowledgment: The author thanks Lorraine Maw, MA, Mental Health Research Center at Eastern State Hospital, for her patient editorial assistance with this letter and other articles about the current status of US psychiatry that have never been sent for publication. Ms Maw reports no financial or other relationship relevant to the subject of this letter.


© Copyright 2009 Physicians Postgraduate Press, Inc.

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