Vanity searches and scholary productivity

Thu 11 Jun 2009 01:26 PM

Poking around on Google Scholar, I can check how often my publications have been cited.* Subtracting instances of me citing myself, my most cited papers are Epistemology and the Wikipedia (with 7 citations) and Distributed cognition and the task of science (with 6 citations).

In science studies, the number of citations made to an article is often used as a measure of the article's scholarly impact. It is sometimes even used as a proxy for the article's quality. Citation counts give social scientists a quantifiable handle on ineffable factors. Sometimes, the same measures are used by administrators to assess the productivity of scholars and departments - again because it gives an objective procedure for assessing such things.

As far as I know, nobody uses such measures to gauge the quality of philosophical work.** It is a good thing, too. Citation patterns vary widely across the field, with some specialties cluttering articles with clouds of citations and others providing a few exemplary citations. There is little difference in substance between a footnote that cites 20 articles without comment and one that cites a recent survey article or anthology.

Considering my two most cited papers, neither of them are straight-up philosophy: The first was only a conference presentation. Anyone who has read it found it on the internet - either on my website or the SUNY digital archive. It has been cited mostly by people thinking about IT issues. The second was published in Social Studies of Science, an interdisciplinary journal.

Suppose these two examples are typical and imagine what would follow if citation counts were used as a measure of scholarly productivity for philosophers. Insofar as scholars in other disciplines cite more, one would want to write papers that pique the interest of those guys. One would want to publish outside the mainstay philosophy journals. In short, one would do more interdisciplinary work.

I do not know whether this would be a good thing or a bad thing. In the long run, though, philosophers would probably just start citing each other more in uninformative, cloud-of-reference footnotes.

* Admittedly, Google Scholar's database is somewhat quirky. It has the virtue of being readily available.

** Some time ago, I discussed an attempt to measure the impact of philosophy journals.


from: Greg

Thu 11 Jun 2009 03:53 PM

Regarding your second footnoted sentence:

At UNLV, we have a fairly complicated form to fill out that determines a faculty member's 'merit level' for the year. A faculty member's merit level determines whether that faculty member gets a raise, and if so, how much.

One relatively small part of the total merit score comes from citations of your work (by someone other than yourself).

So this is not exactly making citation count the operationalization of article quality, but it's not far off -- for hopefully one's merit level is based on one's merit, i.e. the quality of one's work.