Metrics used to gauge a researcher's productivity and importance to science can come at a social cost (J. Wilsdon Nature 523, 129; 2015). Too often, such metrics are underpinned by values of questionable worth.

Any quantitative measure of productivity will reward people who choose to work long hours, build large research teams and minimize their commitments to teaching, review panels and university committees.

The use of such metrics can discourage people from sharing responsibilities and time with their partners or spouses, from investing in and enjoying their children's lives, and from participating in their local communities. Researchers can feel forced to sacrifice 'unproductive' recreational pursuits such as holidays, sport, music, art and reading — activities that other metrics correlate highly with creativity and quality of life (see also J. Overbaugh Nature 477, 27–28; 2011).

We need a more nuanced approach to academic evaluations for hiring, promotion and tenure. The emphasis on quantitative measures of productivity places unfair burdens on scientists and their families, and it discourages some students from pursuing academic careers.