Bibliometrics – “measuring books” – is about making quantitative studies of, above all, scientific publication. That which can be measured and compared are, alone or in combination, authors, articles, terms, subject, university, country, journal, publisher, and citations.
Modern bibliometrics is based on the basic assumption that the attention research should be reflected in subsequent research citations. Often cited research has thus received a great deal of attention and influenced subsequent research. Such attention is usually a sign of quality. Bibliometric studies of citations are therefore often indicative of the distribution of funds for research.
Bibliometric concepts and definitions
Criticism and problems
The simplicity and impact of quantitative analyses of research have in recent years increased interest in bibliometrics. From being only a neutral analytical tool, the use of bibliometrics for research evaluation and distribution of funds has had some unplanned consequences:
- An incipient adaptation towards increased formalisation of scientific publishing in the humanities is a consequence of the difficulties of measuring publication.
- Problems with manipulative adaptation to bibliometric requirements and conditions.
- Concerns about a shift from research quality to citations.
- Concerns about “salami slicing” – that research results are published in small pieces to collect more citations.
- Subject coverage in citation databases – social sciences and humanities are inadequately covered.
- The citation and quality relationship – citations for reasons other than demonstrating previous knowledge, such as criticism.
- Reliability of bibliometric comparisons – especially at the personal level.
Benefits of Bibliometrics
- An inexpensive way to assess large amounts of research.
- A method to detect developments, patterns, and deviations over time.
- Comparatively free from problems related to inequality, nepotism, prejudice, gender issues and competition.
What to consider when interpreting and performing analyses
Standardisation: Compare equals. Units with different conditions do not make for a fair analytical comparison. Always compare within the same subject, the same annual interval, and the same publication type.
Bibliometrics are best suited for large units, such as journals, universities, or countries. Analyses of smaller units, such as articles, researchers, or research groups, require additional knowledge.
Alternatives to bibliometrics
Peer review has an older history than bibliometrics and is generally considered a more appropriate assessment of disciplines poorly represented in citation databases. The assessment model for allocating resources that the Swedish Research Council has is primarily regarded as assessment with expert panels, even if bibliometric indicators are included.
A hybrid model and a mixture of panel assessment and bibliometrics. The model is based on an assessment of publishing channels: journals, series, publishers, and websites. Publications such as articles, books or book chapters are then assigned a value based on the assessment of the journal or publisher. This value is then used to analyse larger units. As the name suggests, the model is used in Norway to evaluate research and the distribution of funding. The Norwegian expert’s assessment of publishing channels is freely available.