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: US company sells out of Ebola toys

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 ...

Recommended for you

US company sells out of Ebola toys

Oct 17, 2014

They might look tasteless, but satisfied customers dub them cute and adorable. Ebola-themed toys have proved such a hit that one US-based company has sold out.

New progress of the Neogene Suidae research

Oct 17, 2014

Dr. Hou Sukuan and Prof. Deng Tao from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology(IVPP), Chinese Academy of Sciences reported a new species of Chleuastochoerus from the Linxia Basin, Gansu ...

Gypsies and travellers on the English Green Belt

Oct 17, 2014

The battle between Gypsies, Travellers and the settled community over how land can be used has moved to the Green Belt, observes Peter Kabachnik of the City University of New York.

User comments : 0