Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How big is yours?

Here, then, is my column from last Saturday’s Guardian.

While writing this, I discovered that Google Scholar has an add-on that will tot up your citations to establish an h-index. From that, I gather that mine is around 29. One of the comments on the Guardian thread points out that Richard Feynman has an h of 23. As Nigel Tufnell famously said apropos Jimmy Page, “I think that says quite a lot.”

_________________________________________________________________

Many scientists worry that theirs isn’t big enough. Even those who sniff that size isn’t everything probably can’t resist taking a peek to see how they compare with their rivals. The truly desperate can google for dodgy techniques to make theirs bigger.

I’m talking about the h-index, a number that supposedly measures the quality of a researcher’s output. And if the schoolboy double entendres seem puerile, there does seem to be something decidedly male about the notion of a number that rates your prowess and ranks you in a league table. Given that, say, the 100 chemists with the highest h-index are all male, whereas 1 in 4 postdoctoral chemists is female, the h-index does seem to be the academic equivalent of a stag’s antlers.

Few topics excite more controversy among scientists. When I spoke about the h-index to the German Physical Society a few years back, I was astonished to find the huge auditorium packed. Some deplore it; some find it useful. Some welcome it as a defence against the subjective capriciousness of review and tenure boards.

The h-index is named after its inventor, physicist Jorge Hirsch, who proposed it in 2005 precisely as a means of bringing some rigour to the slippery question of who is most deserving of a grant or a post. The index measures how many highly cited papers a scientist has written: your value of h is the number of your papers that have each been cited by (included in the reference lists of) at least h other papers. So a researcher with an h of 10 has written 10 papers that have received at least 10 citations each.

The idea is that citations are a measure of quality: if a paper reports something important, other scientists will refer to it. That’s a broadly a reasonable assumption, but not airtight. There’s evidence that some papers get highly cited by chance, because of a runaway copycat effect: people cite them just because others have, in the same way that some mediocre books and songs become unaccountably popular.

But to get a big h-index, it’s not enough to write a few influential papers. You have to write a lot of them. A single paper could transform a field of science and win its author a Nobel prize, while doing little for the author’s h-index if he or she doesn’t write anything else of note. Nobel laureate chemist Harry Kroto is ranked an apparently undistinguished 264th in the h-index list of chemists because his (deserved) fame rests largely on a single breakthrough paper in 1985.

That’s one of the criticisms of the h-index – it imposes a one-size-fits-all view of scientific impact. There are many other potential faults. Young scientists with few publications score lower, however brilliant they are. The value of h can be artificially boosted – slightly but significantly – by scientists repeatedly citing their own papers. It fails to distinguish the relative contributions to the work in many-author papers. The numbers can’t be compared across disciplines, because citation habits differ.

Many variants of the h-index have been proposed to get round these problems, but there’s no perfect answer, and one great virtue of the h-index is its simplicity, which means that its pros and cons are relative transparent. In any case, it’s here to stay. No one officially endorses the h-index for evaluation, but scientists confess that they use it all the time as an informal way of, say, assessing applicants for a job. The trouble is that it’s precisely for average scientists that the index works rather poorly: small differences in small h-indices don’t tell you very much.

The h-index is part of a wider trend in science to rely on metrics – numbers rather than opinions – for assessment. For some, that’s like assuming that book sales measure literary merit. It can distort priorities, encouraging researchers to publish all they can and follow fads (it would have served Darwin poorly). But numbers aren’t hostage to fickle whim, discrimination or favouritism. So there’s a place for the h-index, as long as we can keep it there.

51 comments:

JimmyGiro said...

"But numbers aren’t hostage to fickle whim, discrimination or favouritism."

Then why don't we have the same government every election?

Whim and discrimination are the bedrock of propaganda, and the madness of crowds was the inspiration of the Hitlerian socialist paradigm that: the people will believe the bigger lie (though it was possibly stated by Goebbels, and practiced by all socialists ever since).

And if mere number lacks its own quality in a metrication of British science, why raise the point that 1 in 4 women are given chemistry PhDs? Unless you were pointing out that 1 in 4 of such valuable resources, were clearly not amounting to much.

Clearly the problem is 'citation' itself, as it is prone to the 'ethical' selection of politically motivated publishing houses, not to mention quota filling research funding that will stipulate gender proportions rather than merit. If you don't believe me, try citing authors that the Guardianistas don't care for, such as Frederick Hayek, or Ayn Rand, who had a view or ten, regarding numbers and 'virtue'.

If you want a 'value addded' index of scientific worth, you must include an economic measure. Maybe have a suite of indexes, ranging from mere citation through to economic gain, so that the public know when their money is being wasted on Marxist-Feminist embezzelments, such as 'research' into how better same sex foster parents are at rearing children, than real parents.

usman khalid said...

This is one of the good articles you can find in the net explaining everything in detail regarding the topic. I thank you for taking your time sharing your thoughts and ideas to a lot of readers out there. mr bean games

smithhogg said...

I could tell how great you are in your field of interest. You could relate in each detail very well
essays help | cheap custom essays | essay writing uk

Zita said...

Very useful and informative article you have got here. I liked all the points and they are very useful. Thanks for sharing it with us. cheap domain name and web hosting

rock said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
liva said...

I really wanted to say thanks for this kind of post and I highly recommended it, thanks again for sharing such a wonderful post! Movies Wallpapers | Nature Wallpapers | Others Wallpapers

Abdul Rehman said...

This is a really this website
good post… Must admit that you are amongst the best bloggers I have read… Thanks………..?

Mary Griffin said...

This is really attractive and very effective. bane jacket

sana khan said...

This is a great inspiring article.I am pretty much pleased with your good work.You put really very helpful information. Keep it up.<a href="http://hannytechonlinegames.blogspot.com/> Free Games</a>

charlesdusty10 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Griffin said...

I know it will be difficult that's why I was advising you. bane coat

john peter said...

design leaflet Thank you for this blog. That's all I can say.

Lisa Thompson said...

Really very nice post, Thanks for sharing this valuable information with us.

ethan hunt jacket

DEWHURST TOULSON said...

The truly desperate can google for dodgy techniques to make theirs bigger.
dissertation help

s said...



indiana jones jacket


indiana jones leather jacket obtained from the movie "indiana jones"worn by indiana jones has been available
here buy it on discounted rates with worldwide shipping

stone johnson said...


Inception Cobb Jacket

Leonardo Dicaprio leather jacket obtained from the movie "Inception "worn by Leonardo Dicaprio has been available
here buy it on discounted rates with worldwide shipping

stone johnson said...


Inception Cobb Jacket

Leonardo Dicaprio leather jacket obtained from the movie "Inception "worn by Leonardo Dicaprio has been available
here buy it on discounted rates with worldwide shipping

stone johnson said...


Inception Cobb Jacket

Leonardo Dicaprio leather jacket obtained from the movie "Inception "worn by Leonardo Dicaprio has been available
here buy it on discounted rates with worldwide shipping

Khurram Somani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Khurram Somani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stone johnson said...

skyfall james bond suits


James bond Daniel craig Suit taken from the movie “Skyfall” worn by Daniel craig as james bond available here,buy this
superb quality Suit with FREE worldwide shipping

Andrew Jorge said...

I am really thankful for this post. Really looking forward to read more. Tremendous. Good luck and wish you the new interesting posts. Keep writing!
click here

Khurram Somani said...

It is the great benefit to really like humankind.

hazel Blossom said...

This post truly made my day. You can’t imagine just how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks.all about essay writing

Doris Eudora said...

Thanks for sharing your great ideas with us through this site.logo creator

Alex Billy said...

Thank you for your cool blog. I am a fan of your work.

Paper Writing Services

Felix Smith said...

Thanks great job with the blog, today is my first visit here and I've enjoyed reading your posts so far. Cheap Essays

Felix Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
alex said...

Very interesting article. I've always been interested in knowing more about this.
Best Essay Writer Service.

justin albert said...

Nice article, I am a big time fan of your site, keep up the nice work, and I will be a frequent visitor for a very long time.
iPhone Development

Felix Smith said...

It's always nice when you can not only be informed, but also get knowledge, from these type of blog, nice entry. Cheap Essays

alex zandar said...

Nice post i really glad to read this informative post, thanks for sharing. :)
studioxcess.net

Felix Smith said...

Always prefer to read the quality content and this thing I found in your post. Thanks for sharing. Hajj Packages

Felix Smith said...

It's always nice when you can not only be informed, but also get knowledge, from these type of blog. Wholesale Towels

Felix Smith said...

Thanks for a great post and interesting comments. I found this post while searching the web for free stuff. Thanks for sharing this post. Used Police Cars

Felix Smith said...

Thank you so much for writing a lot of this good information! I am looking forward to reading more. Hajj Packages

Felix Smith said...

The way you shared your knowledge here is amazing. Debt Collector

Felix Smith said...

Excellent.. Amazing.. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds also... Thanks for one`s marvellous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it. Debt Collection

Desert Jackets said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Felix Smith said...

I am impressed by the quality of information on this blog. There are a lot of good resources here. Cheap Essay Writing

Fabian Smith said...

I am very much impressed from your post.It has amazing information.I learned lot of new things. Custom Essays

Mia Smith said...

I like your website. Thank you for great information. I will come back to your website again. Coupon Missy
Coupon Codes
Free Shipping
Grocery Coupons

Tom Brian said...

Good post, keep up the good work.
Airport Taxi

sohbet said...

That is very kind of you to write this share for us, thanks a lot
chat

david paul said...

Amazing work i like your idea how you discuss each and every thing related to this blog.
geoessay

Tina brian said...

Awesome post this one realy helped me at my point of confusion :) Realy thanx alot for sharing :) Keep it up ;)
Billy Bishop Airport
YTZ Airport
Taxi to Billy Bishop Airport

Albert Jacson said...

Great... i found your website from google
Cheap Essays

Tina brian said...

Thanx for sharing such useful post keep it up :)
Cereb

maaz qazi said...

this is very kind of you to share such precious information with us , effort appreciated, thanks for sharing. got some relevant links do follow
Umrah Packages 2014
Special Umrah Packages 2014 USA CANADA
Guide To Mindfulness
Latest News Malala Imran Khan PTI
Simplify Your Life
8 Spiritual Thoughts To Never Let Go In Life\
MALALA CONSPIRACY
CRICKET WORLD CUP 2015

maaaz khan said...

Great Post Dude Loved It.
Cheap Umrah Packages From USA
Christmas In Pakistan
Medical Tourism

maaaz khan said...

Great Post Dude Loved It.
Cheap Umrah Packages From USA
Christmas In Pakistan
Medical Tourism