Lizzie Gadd warns against jumping on ‘bad metrics’ bandwagons without really engaging with the more complex responsible metrics agenda beneath.
An undoubted legacy of the Metric Tide report has been an increased focus on the responsible use of metrics and along with this a notion of ‘bad metrics’. Indeed, the report itself even recommended awarding an annual ‘Bad Metrics Prize’. This has never been awarded as far as I’m aware, but nominations are still open on their web pages. There has been a lot of focus on responsible metrics recently. The Forum for Responsible Metrics have done a survey of UK institutions and is reporting the findings on 8 February in London. DORA has upped its game and appointed a champion to promote their work and they seem to be regularly retweeting messages that remind us all of their take on what it means to do metrics responsibly. There are also frequent twitter conversations about the impact of metrics in the up-coming REF. In all of this I see an increasing amount of ‘bad metrics’ bandwagon-hopping. The anti-Journal Impact Factor (JIF) wagon is now full and its big sister, the “metrics are ruining science” wagon, is taking on supporters at a heady pace.
It looks to me like we have moved from a state of ignorance about metrics, to a little knowledge. Which, I hear, is a dangerous thing.
It’s not a bad thing, this increased awareness of responsible metrics; all these conversations. I’m responsible metrics’ biggest supporter and a regular slide in my slide-deck shouts ‘metrics can kill people!’. So why am I writing a blog post that claims that there is no such thing as a bad metric? Surely these things can kill people? Well, yes, but guns can also kill people, they just can’t do so unless they’re in the hands of a human. Similarly, metrics aren’t bad in and of themselves, it’s what we do with them that can make them dangerous.