Research publications for academic career advancement: An idea whose time has come. But is this the right way?
SB Bavdekar1, MS Tullu2,
1 Department of Pediatrics, Topiwala National Medical College and BYL Nair Charitable Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
2 Department of Pediatrics, Seth GS Medical College and King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
M S Tullu
Department of Pediatrics, Seth GS Medical College and King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra
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Bavdekar S B, Tullu M S. Research publications for academic career advancement: An idea whose time has come. But is this the right way?.J Postgrad Med 2016;62:1-3
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Bavdekar S B, Tullu M S. Research publications for academic career advancement: An idea whose time has come. But is this the right way?. J Postgrad Med [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 Feb 28 ];62:1-3
Available from: http://www.jpgmonline.com/text.asp?2016/62/1/1/173184
The Medical Council of India (MCI), the statutory body entrusted with the responsibility of establishing and maintaining high standards of medical education,  has recently stipulated that medical teachers need to publish at least two research papers, at every step of promotion, to be eligible for the posts of Associate Professor or Professor in medical colleges.  The issue has become a matter of great debate amongst medical teachers.
This initiative is aimed at encouraging the junior- and middle-level medical faculty to learn, develop, and use the skills required for conducting clinical research and publishing research findings. Such empowered faculty, it is hoped, would be in a position to train and guide undergraduate and postgraduate students in planning, conducting, and reporting research. The whispers of dissatisfaction primarily point out that teachers perform several duties related to teaching: A medical teacher acts a learning facilitator, mentor, on-the-job role model, teaching role model, lecturer, clinical or practical teacher, resource material creator, study guide producer, course organizer, curriculum planner, curriculum evaluator, and student assessor.  In addition, a teacher performs professional work (clinical and laboratory), undertakes research, and executes administrative duties. Critics point out that the MCI seems to be concerned only about the teachers' research output, while neglecting the other aspects of duties that they carry out. It has also been argued that contribution to research is being evaluated only in terms of number of publications, while neglecting other aspects of scholarship such as mentoring students for research, reviewing manuscripts for journals, and working as an editor. However, we think that measuring these aspects would be quite difficult and measuring research output in terms of publication of research articles could be the first step in this regard. Some have argued that most institutions do not have optimum research infrastructure and this may hamper the teacher's ability to carry out and publish meaningful research. But, we think that mandating such requirements would compel college administrators to improve research infrastructure. Such a requirement will in all probability also stimulate research regarding the health issues of the local population. It might improve the quality of dissertations and also increase the current, abysmal dissertation-to-publication conversion ratio. The thought process is also complementary to MCI's Vision 2015, wherein, among others, it expects a medical graduate to be able to develop a research question and be familiar with basic, clinical, and translational research as it applies to the care of the patient.  Besides, the requirement of publishing a minimum of two research articles over a minimum period of 4 years (as Assistant Professor or as Associate Professor) cannot be considered to be onerous. However, the other details provided in the MCI Circular  are controversial, seem to lack logic, and need to be refined.
The Circular  states that only original research articles and original research papers would be considered and only those in which the concerned doctor is either the first or the second author. Since MCI wishes to look at research output, it is understandable that review articles have not been included. Many consider case reports and case series as descriptive studies describing a new finding, association, interaction, or complication. They play an important role in furthering science and their most important contribution in generating new hypotheses and novel ideas is well recognized.  They provide important information and data that help formulate detailed studies. The MCI needs to clarify explicitly if it would recognize case reports and case series as original research articles. The other issue is whether the MCI would recognize research study articles that are not published in the journal's "Original Articles" section but are included in the journal's "Letters to Editors", "Research Letters" or "Brief Reports" sections.
The limitation of giving credit only to the first two authors  is highly controversial and seems to be without a precedent. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) does not make such a distinction among the various contributors in the author list. The MCI may have put this limitation to discourage gift publications. However, it might result in other equally undesirable consequences. It is not uncommon for the senior teachers to put their names last in the list of authors, although their contribution is quite significant. They do so to encourage their junior colleagues and students to continue with the research work. The MCI requirements might compel these teachers to ensure that their names are listed ahead of others. It must also be remembered that the number of authors depends upon the complexity of the study and the number of centers involved in carrying out the particular research study. In multicentric studies, many a times the order of authorship is predecided on the basis of the number of participants enrolled at centers (with the investigator enrolling maximum number of participants listed first) or is assigned based on alphabetical order (based on the last name of participating investigators). None of these indicate that the contribution of authors listed later is significantly lower as compared to that of the first two authors!
The circular , also states that for the purpose of promotions to a higher post, the MCI will only consider articles published in journals indexed with certain indexing agencies (the list includes search engines and repositories as well) such as Scopus, PubMed, Medline, Embase/Excerpta Medica, Index Medicus, and Index Copernicus. Indexed journals are considered to be quality journals and indexing agencies enroll them on the basis of adherence to certain qualifying criteria such as publishing quality, digitization, indexing in databases, international availability, regularity of publication, frequency of citations, presence of a peer-review process, and quality of journal content and editorial work. ,,, The scientific community insists on a peer-review process as the minimum mandatory criterion for the assurance of quality. The MCI has probably decided to raise the bar and consider articles published in "indexed journals" only. It may have felt compelled to do this also because it does not have any independent mechanism to determine if journals are carrying out peer review and if they are of good standing. In such a situation, it may not be wrong for the MCI to depend upon the judgment of indexing agencies for identifying quality journals and quality publications. However, it is not clear why it has selected only six agencies in preference to many other similar organizations such as Bioline, Google Scholar, HINARI, Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), EBSCO Publishing's Electronic Databases, OpenJGate, Science Citation Index Expanded, and Web of Science. It has chosen to ignore even the Indian Medical Journal database (IndMed/MedInd) funded by the Indian Council of Medical Research and other national and regional databases and indexes. It is surprising that DOAJ has been kept out though it has clear qualifying criteria for selecting journals for indexing.  It would have been better if the MCI had put up a discussion paper clarifying its thought process behind the whole idea.
While clarifying regarding the national/international journals, the Circular states the following: "Criteria for National/International journal: Published by a National/International - Specialty Journal/Journal of a National/International Society provided it (is) included in one of the indexes mentioned above." It is not clear if the MCI intends to select journals published by professional societies alone; as the word "professional" is missing. Recognizing journals published by professional societies alone will lead to the exclusion of journals such as Lancet. We think that the MCI should not be overly concerned about the ownership of the journal, as long as it follows a peer-review process and has a good standing.
The most controversial condition in the Circular is the one that excludes all e-journals. It is true that there has been an indiscriminate mushrooming of "predatory" online medical open-access journals, some of which are known to guarantee publication of all submitted articles in a short span of time (read "sans peer review" or with just a "cursory review") for a fee. ,, Ironically, it is the governmental and employer pressure on scientists to publish that is, at least partly, responsible for the "growth" of predatory online journals; , and publishers and authors from India are significant contributors for this trend.  The MCI must have been wary of such predatory or fake e-journals. However, we think that lumping all online journals as "predatory" or "fake" journals seems unfair, to say the least. For example, many prestigious journals such as New Zealand Medical Journal, BMC Pediatrics, International Journal of Infectious Diseases, and PLoS Medicine, indexed by various agencies, are available only in the online format. In fact, many organizations are discontinuing publication of print journals and bringing out only electronic versions.  It is believed that in the future, most journals will be available only in the electronic format. In such an era, it is ill-advised to disregard e- journals. There seems to be no harm in considering indexed e-journals of good standing as eligible.
We think that the notion of considering research publications as one of the criteria for promotion is desirable. However, it is necessary for the MCI to bring out a position paper describing the rationale behind this move and to explain the technicalities related to authorship criteria, types of eligible publications, and choice of journals and indexing agencies selected. Rather than doing away with case reports altogether, they may be considered eligible but assigned a lower marking. Similarly, research articles published as letters or brief reports may also be considered but given a lower marking or credit. Since, it is not possible for the MCI to check the quality of a plethora of journals, it may select journals registered with agencies with stringent selection criteria, which should be made public. The blanket ban on e journals should be revisited and the MCI should put forth a process that is sound and transparent for implementing what is in essence a good idea.
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