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Counting publications and citations is not just irrelevant: it is an incentive that subverts the impact of clinical research
  1. Fionn Büttner1,
  2. Clare L Ardern2,3,
  3. Paul Blazey4,
  4. Serenna Dastouri5,
  5. Heather A McKay6,
  6. David Moher7,8,
  7. Karim M Khan4,9
  1. 1School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
  2. 2Division of Physiotherapy, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
  3. 3Sport & Exercise Medicine Research Centre, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  4. 4Centre for Hip Health and Mobility, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  5. 5Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Vancouver, Ontario, Canada
  6. 6Deparment of Orthopaedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  7. 7Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa School of Epidemiology and Public Health, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  8. 8Centre for Journalology and Canadian EQUATOR Centre, Clinical Epidemiology Program, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  9. 9Department of Family Practice and School of Kinesiology, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Fionn Büttner, School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland; fionn.cleirigh-buttner{at}

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Not everything that can be counted counts

More than one million scientists publish peer-reviewed research each year.1 Health research strives to generate new discoveries or consolidate existing knowledge to benefit the lives of humans. But does published health research impact patients, policy, the economy, or society?

Common metrics that are purported to capture scientists’ contributions to their field include citations generated by peer-reviewed publications, journal impact factor, and indices that combine stand-alone metrics such as publication and citation count (eg, H-index).2 These metrics are frequently used by academic scientists and administrators to (1) inform faculty hiring and promotion, (2) rank grant funding applications, and (3) compare researchers’ perceived productivity.3 However, measures of academic output do not appear to capture the socioeconomic impact of health research, and fixating on academic metrics can lead scientists to neglect other important areas. As federal and international health research funding agencies increasingly demand that research should have impact beyond academia, researchers and academic institutions must adapt. We aim to draw the sport and exercise medicine community’s attention to the concept of research impact, highlight existing ways of assessing research impact, and outline the challenges of measuring research impact.

What is research impact?

Research impact is considered the positive …

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