There are many ways to measure the impact of the science we produce in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences: adoption of new crop varieties or “best management practices,” research expenditures, and of course, economic development and return on investment, to name a few. Another way to assess the impact of our work, however, is how it is accepted and used by other scientists. There is good news on that front.
Plant and animal scientists from WSU were just recently ranked among the most productive and impactful in the world, according to Thomson Reuters, a business and professional data gathering company. In its “Essential Science Indicators,” the company ranked WSU 13th in the world and 6th in the United States based on the impact of journal articles produced by faculty researchers in the plant and animal sciences. More specifically, the ranking is based on the number of times articles authored by our faculty were cited by their peers; in other words, how often other scientists based their work on ours.
Of all of the institutions working in the areas of plant and animal sciences across the globe, just 40 had collected 25,000 or more citations during the period of study. From January 1999 to June 2009, WSU plant and animal researchers produced 2,473 scientific papers in the journals indexed by Thomson Reuters — outstanding. During that same time frame, though, their work was cited 32,544 by other scientists — remarkable! (It is worth noting that the publications included in this index tend to be those of the highest quality.)
Many academics “poo-poo” these types of rankings, noting that one can’t quantify academic excellence, they aren’t based upon the correct metric, or they are too focused on quantity, as opposed to quality. A funny thing though — it seems that those inclined to criticize are those who don’t show up in the rankings. I am more of a believer in the philosophy that you can’t manage for improvement what you cannot measure.
One thing that these rankings are useful for is refuting perceptions of program quality that are so often based upon reputation, as opposed to productivity. Undeniably, there are institutions in higher education that are perceived as top-tier based upon the work of their faculty 40-50 years ago, as opposed to what is occurring today.
Thomson Reuters say its methodology is aimed at “revealing heavy hitters based on per paper influence, not mere output.” That distinction is significant because it has its roots in what we always strive to measure — impact and results rather than activity. In the extremely dynamic environment of higher education today, it is great to see that we are so highly regarded using objective, quality-based criteria.
Congratulations to our plant and animal science faculty and staff!