Last Tuesday the German Research Foundation (DFG) announced changes to the grant application process, going in effect in July. Researchers are no longer allowed to list all their publications in their grant proposals. The number of publications is limited to five per researcher and to two per year of planned funding (e.g. 6 papers for a 3-year grant). Publications submitted but not yet accepted for publication will no longer be allowed.
Some of the reasoning behind this change was explained in the press conference where the policy change was announced. The DFG wants to put more emphasis on quality instead of quantity, in other words counteract the trend to publish several small pieces of incremental research findings (the least publishable unit or LPU). The DFG didn't say so, but this might also reduce the practice of “honorary coauthorship” with some researchers being coauthors of 20 or even 50 papers per year. And the DFG is not happy with the increasing use of the Journal Impact Factor and other metrics as a token measure for the quality of research output. And as a reaction to problems with publication lists in GÃ¶ttingen they want to stop the practice of including unpublished work in reference lists for grant applications.
These changes will decrease the administrative workload of the applicant, reviewer and the DFG. With much shorter reference lists in grant applications, reviewers will have it much easier to take a closer look at the research output of the applicant, instead of relying on an unfortunate proxy such as the Journal Impact Factor. Researchers seeking funding from the DFG will now probably be more likely to write fewer but more substantial papers. And research that doesn't have the potential for a substantial paper, but is nevertheless worth publishing, can be quickly published in a reasonable journal instead of going through several rounds of submissions to a number of journals.
But how do you select your five best publications (assuming you have written more than five)? Choices include:
Using my personal preference (and not too much thought), I picked four papers and one correspondence:
The Wellcome Trust last year announced a different change to they grant application process. Starting later this year, they will stop accepting proposals for project grants, and rather evaluate the reaseach output of the scientist asking for funding (Investigator Awards). They argue that researchers that alrady have shown excellence in the past shoudn't be burdened with the administrative overhead and restrictions of writing a detailed project proposal every three years.
It will be interesting to see how institutions and other research funders in Germany (e.g. Helmholtz or Leibniz) or elsewhere react to this DFG policy change. I would be happy if this is a step towards more reasonable publication policies. And I hope that the upcoming unique author identifier ORCID will not be used for even more complicated bibliometric calculations, but rather as a tool for researchers to showcase their most interesting work.
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