An Experiment On Impact

Google Scholar’s Citation Index H-index score was mentioned with reverence dysologyat a recent meeting in a British University. The speaker was explaining how universities ranked the relevant importance of academics and the impact of their work. I was intrigued to hear the presenter refer to this measure as an important determinant.  The reason I was surprised is because he used one of my friends as an example of a top scholar with major impact according to the Google’s h-index.

For reasons that will shortly become obvious, I won’t name the presenter, the university involved or the name of my friend. Suffice it to say my friend is a very well known professor and that his Google Citations H-index score is above 90.  If you are unfamiliar with the h-index that will be completely meaningless. For the benefit of those who don’t know about it Professor Andre Spicer explains:

‘To put it in a slightly more simple way – you give an H-index to someone on the basis of the number of papers (H) that have been cited at least H times. For instance, according to Google Scholar, I have an H-index of 28. This is because I have 28 papers that are cited at least 28 times by other research papers. What this means is that a scientist is rewarded for having a range of papers with good levels of citations rather than one or two outliers with very high citations.’

According to the expert London School of Economics “Impact Blog” HERE, as can be seen by its tables below, on average, UK professors in the social sciences have an h-score of  4.97. Specifically, among UK professors of Sociology the average h-score is  3,67.

My own h-score is 12, and so I’m happy to see I’m way above average as a Reader in Criminology and Sociology  HERE.

So what?

What concerns me about the h-score being used as a determinant of an individual’s success and academic impact is that it is totally vulnerable to manipulation by ambitious manipulative academics who are more concerned with playing the game of climbing the greasy pole of academia than actually making a genuine impact on knowledge anywhere. By way of example, my anonymous friend told me he has been playing this game for over three decades. In effect, he has been citing his own work within his other own work as many times as he can get away with it and with incredible regularity. Moreover he has been doing so in journals that are not even peer reviewed. That means that by far the majority of the citations that make up his hugely impressive h-score of over 90 are from his own citations of himself. That means his impressive impact is only impressive on himself with his own ideas, or the ideas of others he is recycling. Obviously his academic impact has also affected the brains of those who think his impressive h-score score means anything more than that.

To prove how this works let’s conduct an experiment here on The Daily Journalist.

As we have seen, my current h-score today (26th November 2016) is 12. But if you look at my citations page you can see that two more citations for my non-peer reviewed primary research paper: ‘ How Prolific Thieves Sell Stolen Goods: Describing, Understanding and Tackling the Local Markets in Mansfield and Nottingham. A Market Reduction Approach Study’  will mean it will then have been cited 13 times. Once that happens my h-score will go up to 13, because I will then have 13 publications, out of all my other publication, that have each been cited a minimum of 13 times.

So to demonstrate with hard data exactly how easy and fast it is to corrupt any useful impact measure the h-index may have I am going to now cite that very minor and non-peer reviewed paper in two non-peer reviewed minor publications. First, I’m going to cite it here. OK here goes:

Sutton, M. (2008) How Prolific Thieves Sell Stolen Goods: Describing, Understanding and Tackling the Local Markets in Mansfield and Nottingham. A Market Reduction Approach Study. Internet Journal of Criminology.

Simultaneously, I am going to dual publish this post on Best Thinking Website and as a comment on the E-Skeptic Magazine. If, by conducting this experiment, I personally drive my own h-score up from 12 to 13  – which I am almost certain I will –  an update will follow within the next few weeks.


What Next?

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