It is not very often that I come across a mainstream news article that starts bandying around terms such as ‘H-Index’ and referring to the ‘Web of Science’, however today’s Guardian has an article on the effect of web journals on academic publishing, the gist of the argument is summed up in the subtitle: “Online publishing reduces academic research to little more than a ‘popularity contest’, critics warn.”
The critic in this case is Alex Bentley an anthropologist at Durham University, arguing that:
We’re just producing so much wordage that nobody has time to read anything. It makes academic publishing, and even science itself, a bit like trying to get hits on blogs or try to make yourself the Britney of science.
Is the situation today really so different from an earlier age? Was there ever a time when we could read everything within our field, when academia wasn’t a popularity contest? The web makes the popularity contest a discussion point for the lay person, but the popularity contest has been going on since the we could check our citations (or lack of them in my case).
As a result of this lack of time, people are just hyper-focused on Science, Nature and PNAS
Is it me or is the above statement just a load of old rubbish? Publishing in Science or Nature shares your work with a far broader group of researchers, but it is by no means a substitution for publishing in the top journals in your own field. No academic could have a career that was based solely on publishing in these journals.
Citations have always been important. But they have never been as ridiculously important as they are now.
Personally I welcome the move towards a more open metrics-based RAE system, whilst also recognizing that there will be those who try to play the system (Goodhart’s Law). However, I believe that the best way to succeed in the metrics system is not to try to beat the system but to produce quality research, in the same way that the best way to get a high search engine ranking is to produce quality content rather than joining link farms. Information scientists already recognise that not all citations are equal, and in the same way Google adjusts its algorithm to stop spam dominating the front pages of our searches, we will adjust the calculating of metrics.
Dr Bentley will be pleased to hear that I will be flying off to Thailand next week to carry out some isotopic work on prehistoric skeletons.