Citation Metrics: A Philosophy of Science Perspective


Citation metrics are statistical measures of scientific output that draw on citation indexes. They purport to capture the impact of scientific articles and the journals in which they appear. As evaluative tools they are mostly used in the natural sciences, but they are also acquiring an important role in the humanities. 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 so, it assesses the argument made against the use of citation metrics for scientific research by Gillies (2008). According to Gillies, citations metrics tend to over-protect normal science at the expenses of revolutionary science–in other words, reinforce the status quo rather than supporting innovations and breakthroughs. Unlike Gillies, this paper focuses on the context of normal science and shows that citation metrics can in fact arbitrarily hinder its development when they do not take field-specific differences into account. In light of this, the paper cautions against their use for evaluative purposes. To argue for this conclusion, the paper shows that citation metrics fail to “carve science at its joints” and thus cannot be relied upon as indicators of scientific quality that can support the development of normal science.



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Chiara Lisciandra
Tilburg University

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