Challenges in assessing the characteristics of influential public health research.

18 May 2010

The development of frameworks to effectively measure both the scientific and social impact of research is a topic of international debate. This paper examines how Australian public health researchers in six fields (alcohol, drugs, injury, obesity, skin cancer and tobacco) classified the scientific and social impact of what they judged to be their five most influential papers. We compared classifications of researchers rated as most influential by their peers with those not as highly ranked. Highly ranked researchers more often indicated social impact characteristics (Χ2 = 8.13; P = 0.004) than their less influential colleagues. Traditional measures of scientific impact (publication in high impact journals and high citations) were nominated by all researchers regardless of peer-nominated research influence status. There was strong consensus on who were the most influential researchers in five of the six research fields examined. This would appear to provide a sound platform on which to base more qualitative, interview or portfolio-based investigations into the complexities of wider conceptions of research and researcher influence.