Interview with Professor Amane Koizumi

How does one assess the value of a particular piece of scientific research? The conventional way, of course, is by the stature of the journal in which the work is published and the number of citations the paper received. But there’s more to it than that, says Amane Koizumi.

Koizumi recalls the excitement of publishing his earlier work on retinal ganglion cells in the journal Nature, where it garnered many citations. And yet, while acknowledging the value of that publication, he was equally proud of a paper published in a lesser known journal. Why? Because that paper answered a scientific question that he and his research mentor, Dr. Richard Masland of Harvard Medical School, had been pursuing, and ultimately led to the development of a novel organ-specific tissue culture for analyzing mammalian retinas.

We need to develop other criteria to evaluate the value of research work, beyond just looking at where it’s published and the number of citations, Koizumi stresses. The opportunity to do just that propelled him to join Elsevier’s ICSR Advisory Board. I think many researchers around the world feel as I do. We need metrics to assess the inherent quality of research outputs.

That same issue arose when Koizumi led a Japanese Ministry-initiated research metrics project (2016-2017) for evaluating the country’s national universities. His team identified the importance of Atsumi (a Japanese word literally translated as thickness) metrics for evaluating institutional research activities according to various quantity and quality indices. Even so, he says, we are still missing some things.

One aspect that’s missing is a way of assessing the social impact of scientific research, something that often isn’t valued by researchers, who may see no personal advantage to communicating their results to the public. In correspondence published in Nature, Koizumi underscored the importance of scientific outreach activities, noting that governments should recognize the validity of such efforts for funding and job applications, and researchers should value the rewards of society’s understanding and acknowledgment of their work.

Also missing are the means to assess research not published in English, a problem that is especially common when it comes to evaluating publications in the social sciences and humanities. Koizumi is working with the Japanese ministry and other institutions to develop a way to evaluate the impact of Japan’s non-English language research. He looks forward to collaborating with advisory board members, many of whom face this issue in their own countries, to come up with global solutions.

Portrait of prof Amane Koizumi

Amane Koizumi currently is managing the evaluation of research activities at Japan’s National Institutes of Natural Sciences. He is also engaged in discussions with the American Association for the Advancement of Science around the issue of research impact. Koizumi is a graduate of Keio University Medical School in Tokyo, and also earned a PhD in retinal neurophysiology at the university.