Are Citation Metrics a Good Thing?

Abstract

Citation metrics are statistical measures of scientific outputs that draw on citation indexes. They purport to capture the impact of scientific articles and the journals in which they appear. As evaluative tools, citation metrics are mostly used in the natural sciences, but they are also acquiring an important role in the humanities, thereby affecting the development of research programs and institutions. While the strengths and weaknesses of citation metrics are extensively debated in a variety of fields, they have only recently started attracting attention in the philosophy of science. This paper takes a further step in this direction and presents an analysis of citation metrics from the perspective of a Kuhnian model for the development of science. To do that, it starts with an overview of citation metrics both at the general level and at the level of specific metrics, such as Impact Factor, h-index, and field-specific indicators. After that, it engages with Gillies’ argument against the use of citation metrics for scientific research. According to Gillies (2008), citation metrics tend to over-protect normal science at the expenses of revolutionary science. This paper shows that, under certain conditions, citation metrics can in fact arbitrarily hinder the development of normal science and, in light of this, it cautions against using them for evaluative purposes.

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Chiara Lisciandra
Tilburg University

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