APS News

Letters to the Editor

Use Judgment Instead of Impact Factors

The Back Page essay by Carlton Caves, “High-impact-factor syndrome,” (APS News, November 2014) is a much-needed clarion call for more thoughtful evaluation of researchers and research institutions. The wisdom and truth of Caves’ analysis should be self-evident, but is sadly and widely ignored. His proposed test of one’s possible affliction with HIFS — asking if the same publication/citation record looks more impressive if the papers appeared in Nature and Nature Physics than if they appeared in PRL and PRA — is compelling and sobering. We would all be well advised to treat important decisions like hiring and promotion with laborious (but substantive) judgment rather than lazy (and near-empty) “objectivity.”

William D. Phillips
Gaithersburg, Maryland

HIFS and Related Diseases

I enjoyed Carlton Caves’ recent Back Page article on HIFS: high impact factor syndrome (APS News, November 2014). Having excellent scientists comment on issues like this can only improve our discipline.

Like many of my colleagues, I also find it annoying when someone talks of publication in high-impact journals as defining greatness. There are excellent papers published elsewhere as well.

Often some other proxy measures like bibliometrics are useful for objective reviewing. Yet I find in my reviewing duties two more factors relating to citations that are just as troublesome as HIFS.

The second issue is the CCS: citation club syndrome. This is the expanding average author number in every paper, driven by Thomson Reuters and Google crediting every author for their co-authors' work.

The third issue is the FJS: fake journal syndrome. This is the plethora of fake online journals, which only want to collect publication fees. They cite each other, so citation counting won’t cure this.

Just how one should proceed with evaluations in science is not easy. Solving these other two problems might help to solve the HIFS problem, by making bibliometrics more reliable.

Peter D. Drummond
Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia

Voting is Fundamental

In APS News (November 2014) several distinguished physicists took exception to the new Constitution & Bylaws because they felt their voting rights would be denied. In response, 2014 APS President Beasley explained that the APS Council deliberated this issue but in the end chose the Council to approve amendments, partly because APS voting participation was low, 15 percent or less.

Beasley and the Council may be correct, but more importantly we need to rectify our abominable voting record. We cannot maintain a healthy APS if most of us shirk our voting responsibilities.

The world faces challenges, most of which will require skills and expertise found in APS. We can be of little service if our Society is in disarray because we refuse to participate in its proper functioning. Voting is crucial to our health, whether en masse like the recent Constitution & Bylaws vote or in APS units.

No excuse is valid. “I don’t have time; I’m too busy with research and teaching; my vote won’t matter anyway.” I recently spent a half hour reviewing Forum on Education candidates. As a former teacher, I wanted to understand what challenges they face and how they respond. I voted and benefited from the experience.

We are an important microcosm of our country. To maintain our effectiveness, we must all participate. At its most elemental and unifying level, this means VOTE.

Michael Bozoian
Lynchburg, Virginia


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