Report on citation statistics: Numbers with a number of problems

Jun 11, 2008

The International Mathematical Union today released the Citation Statistics report. Citation-based statistics, such as the impact factor, are often used to assess scientific research, but are they the best measures of research quality? Three international mathematics organizations have today released a report, Citation Statistics, on the use of citations in assessing research quality – a topic that is of increasing interest throughout the world's scientific community.

The report is written from a mathematical perspective and strongly cautions against the over-reliance on citation statistics such as the impact factor and h-index. These are often promoted because of the belief in their accuracy, objectivity, and simplicity, but these beliefs are unfounded.

Among the report's key findings:

-- Statistics are not more accurate when they are improperly used; statistics can mislead when they are misused or misunderstood.

-- The objectivity of citations is illusory because the meaning of citations is not well-understood. A citation's meaning can be very far from "impact".

-- While having a single number to judge quality is indeed simple, it can lead to a shallow under-standing of something as complicated as research. Numbers are not inherently superior to sound judgments.

The report promotes the sensible use of citation statistics in evaluating research and points out several common misuses. It is written by mathematical scientists about a widespread application of mathematics. While the authors of the report recognize that assessment must be practical and that easily-derived citation statistics will be part of the process, they caution that citations provide only a limited and incomplete view of research quality. Research is too important, they say, to measure its value with only a single coarse tool.

The report was commissioned by the International Mathematical Union (IMU) in cooperation with the International Council on Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ICIAM), and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS). It draws upon a broad literature on the use of citation data to evaluate research, including articles on the impact factor (the most common citation-based statistic) and the h-index along with its many variants. The work was also based on practices as reported from mathematicians and other scientists from around the world.

Source: American Mathematical Society

Explore further: Heat distributions help researchers to understand curved space

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

UK's lead in physics healthy but insecure

Apr 22, 2014

The quantity and quality of scientific papers produced by UK physicists indicates that the UK remains in an elite group of nations contributing at the leading edge of physics research.

IT industry ignores silver surfers at its peril

May 14, 2013

Hardware and software vendors are foolish to ignore the needs of the growing population of older computer and information technology users, the so-called "silver surfers". US researchers offer convincing evidence in a monograph ...

Some course adjustments? Virtually guaranteed

Apr 23, 2013

The public health class got ready for its first lecture: Attending were the pharmacist from Pakistan, the psychologist from Brazil, the dietitian from Louisiana, the journalist from Los Angeles - and 4,500 other people. It's ...

Inside the hidden web

Sep 03, 2012

Looking for information? Google it, right? Maybe not. Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) Maureen Henninger is helping journalists, writers and information knowledge management ...

Recommended for you

Modern population boom traced to pre-industrial roots

7 hours ago

The foundation of the human population explosion, commonly attributed to a sudden surge in industrialization and public health during the 18th and 19th centuries, was actually laid as far back as 2,000 years ...

Researcher looks at the future of higher education

7 hours ago

Most forecasts about the future of higher education have focused on how the institutions themselves will be affected – including the possibility of less demand for classes on campus and fewer tenured faculty members as ...

Now we know why it's so hard to deceive children

9 hours ago

Daily interactions require bargaining, be it for food, money or even making plans. These situations inevitably lead to a conflict of interest as both parties seek to maximise their gains. To deal with them, ...

User comments : 0