for computer Science
Reassessing the assessment criteria and techniques traditionally used
in evaluating computer science research effectiveness.
Academic culture iS
changing. The rest of the world,
including university management, increasingly as-sesses scientists; we must
demonstrate worth through indicators,
often numeric. While the extent of the
syndrome varies with countries and institutions, La Fontaine’s words apply:
“not everyone will die, but everyone is hit.”
Tempting as it may be to reject numerical evaluation, it will not go away. The
problem for computer scientists is that
assessment relies on often inappropriate and occasionally outlandish criteria. We should at least try to base it on
metrics acceptable to the profession.
In discussions with computer scientists from around the world, this
risk of deciding careers through distorted instruments comes out as a
top concern. In the U.S. it is mitigated by the influence of the Computing
Research Association’s 1999 “best
practices” report.a In many other
countries, computer scientists must
repeatedly explain the specificity of
their discipline to colleagues from
other areas, for example in hiring and
promotion committees. Even in the
U.S., the CRA report, which predates
widespread use of citation databases
and indexes, is no longer sufficient.
a For this and other references, and the source
of the data behind the results, see an expanded version of this column at http://se.ethz.
Informatics Europe, the association of European CS departments,b
has undertaken a study of the issue,
of which this Viewpoint column is a
preliminary result. Its views commit
the authors only. For ease of use the
conclusions are summarized through
10 concrete recommendations.
Our focus is evaluation of individuals rather than departments or laboratories. The process often involves
many criteria, whose importance varies with institutions: grants, number
of Ph.D.s and where they went, community recognition such as keynotes
at prestigious conferences, best paper and other awards, editorial board
memberships. We mostly consider a
particular criterion that always plays
an important role: publications.
Research is a competitive endeavor.
Researchers are accustomed to constant assessment: any work submitted—even, sometimes, invited—is
b See http://www.informatics-europe.org.
peer-reviewed; rejection is frequent,
even for senior scientists. Once
published, a researcher’s work will
be regularly assessed against that
of others. Researchers themselves
referee papers for publication, participate in promotion committees,
evaluate proposals for funding agencies, answer institutions’ requests
for evaluation letters. The research
management edifice relies on assessment of researchers by researchers.
Criteria must be fair (to the extent
possible for an activity circumscribed
by the frailty of human judgment);
openly specified; accepted by the target scientific community. While other
disciplines often participate in evaluations, it is not acceptable to impose criteria from one discipline on another.
Computer science concerns itself with
the representation and processing of
information using algorithmic techniques. (In Europe the more common
term is Informatics, covering a slightly
broader scope.) CS research includes
two main flavors, not mutually exclusive: Theory, developing models of
computations, programs, languages;
Systems, building soft ware artifacts and
assessing their properties. In addition,
domain-specific research addresses
specifics of information and computing for particular application areas.
CS research often combines aspects
of engineering and natural sciences as
well as mathematics. This diversity is
APriL 2009 | voL. 52 | no. 4 | communicAtionS of the Acm