The Research Information Network has just released a very interesting report (prepared by a team from the University of Loughborough and Manchester Metropolitan University) on the publication and communication behaviour of academic researchers. 'Communicating knowledge: how and why researchers publish and disseminate their findings' The report is backed up by technical reports on the methods employed.
The message that comes across strongly is that researcher behaviour has been significantly influenced by the Research Assessment Exercise (soon to be the Research Excellence Framework - a rather less immediately meaningful phrase!). In particular, the report demonstrates changes in the choice of research outlets, with a pronounced swing towards more journal papers, and the researchers themselves comment on the potentially damaging influence of the RAE (mediated by their universities in what is often a confused manner) as they are impelled to submit to higher-ranked journals, forsaking their previous practice of, for example, publishing in conference proceedings or book chapters.
One point noted in the report (although it is not expressed in quite this way!) is the totally stupid practice of Universities, their Faculties and Departments insisting that researchers must get published in a limited list of higher-ranked journals. Sometimes the sources of the ranking are rather curious - does the Financial Times, for example, have the inside track on which journals in business and economics are 'best'? And yet there are business schools that use its ranking as the basis for practice.
The authors do not say it but, reading between the lines, the RAE (and even more so, the yet to happen REF) is past its sell-by date. Massive change in university funding for research has now been accomplished and it is difficult to see what further benefits (i.e., for government policy, not research'excellence') can be achieved.