New CWTS blog

Dear readers,

It is with great pleasure that we announce a new platform for blog posts emanating from our institute: the CWTS blog.

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How important is the number of citations to my scientific work really? How is evaluation influencing knowledge production? Should my organisation support the DORA declaration? When does it (not) make sense to use the h-index? What does a competitive yet conscientious career system look like? What is the relation between scientific and social impact of research? How can we value diversity in scholarship?

The CWTS blog brings together ideas, commentary, and (book) reviews about the latest developments in scientometrics, research evaluation, and research management. It is written for those interested in bibliometric and scientometric indicators and tools, implications of monitoring, measuring, and managing research, and the potential of quantitative and qualitative methods for understanding the dynamics of scientific research.

This a moderated blog with a small editorial team consisting of Sarah de RijckeLudo Waltman, and Paul Wouters. The blog posts are written by researchers affiliated to CWTS.

In the meantime, this current Citation Culture blog will be discontinued. Thank you all very much for your dedicated readership. We hope you will enjoy reading the new blog!

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Ethics and misconduct – Review of a play organized by the Young Academy (KNAW)

This is a guest blog post by Joost Kosten. Joost is PhD student at CWTS and member of the EPIC working group. His research focuses on the use of research indicators from the perspective of public policy. Joost obtained an MSc in Public Administration (Leiden University) and was also trained in Political Science (Stockholm University) and Law (VU University Amsterdam).

Scientific (mis)conduct – The sins, the drama, the identification

On Tuesday November 18th 2014 the Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences organized a performance of the play Gewetenschap by Tony Maples at Leiden University. These weeks, Pandemonia Science Theater is on tour in the Netherlands to perform this piece at several universities. Gewetenschap was inspired by occasional troubles with respect to ethics and integrity which recently occurred in Dutch science and scholarship. Although these troubles concerned grave violations of the scientific code of conduct (i.e., the cardinal sins of fraud, fabrication, and plagiarism) the play focusses on common dilemma’s in a researcher’s everyday life. The title Gewetenschap is a non-existent word, which combines the Dutch words geweten (conscience) and wetenschap (science).

The playwright used confidential interviews with members of the Young Academy to gain insight into the most frequently occurring ethical dilemma’s researchers have to deal with. Professor Karin de Zwaan is a research group leader who has hardly any time to do research herself. She puts much effort in organizing grants, attracting new students and organizing her research group. Post-doc Jeroen Dreef is a very active researcher who does not have enough time to take organizational responsibilities serious. A tenure track is all he wants. Given their other important activities, Karin and Jeroen hardly have any time to supervise PhD student Lotte. One could question the type of support they do give her.

At times, given the reaction on scenes of the drama piece, the topics presented were clearly recognized by the audience. Afterwards, the dilemma’s touched upon during the play are presented by prof. Bas Haring. The audience discusses the following topics:

  • Is there a conflict between the research topics a researcher likes himself and what the research group expects her/him to do?
  • In one of the scenes, the researchers were delighted because of the acceptance of a publication. Haring asks if that exhibits “natural behaviour”. Shouldn’t a researcher be happy with good results instead of a publication being accepted? One of the participants replies that a publication functions as a reward.
  • What do you do with your data? Is endless application of a diversity analysis methods until you find nice results a responsible approach?
  • What about impact factors (IF)? Bas Haring himself says his IF is 0. “Do you think I am an idiot?” Which role do numbers such as the IF play in your opinion about colleagues? There seems to be quite a diversity of opinions. An early career research says everone knows these numbers are nonsense. An experienced scientist points out that there is a correlation between scores and quality. Someone else expresses his optimism since he expects that this focus on numbers will be over with ten years. This causes another to respond that in the past there was competition too, but in a different way.
  • When is someone a co-author? This question results in a lively debate. Apparently, there are considerable differences from field to field. In the medical fields, a co-authorship can be a way to express gratitude to authors who have played a vital role in a research project, such as people who could organize experimental subjects. In this way, a co-authorship becomes a tradeable commodity. A medicine professor points out that in his field, co-authorships can be used to compare a curriculum vitae with the development of status as a researcher. Thus, it can be used as a criterion to judge grant proposals. A good researcher should start with first position co-authorships, later on should have co-authorships somewhere in between the first and last author, and should end his career with papers in which has co-authorships in the last position. Thus, the further the career has been developed, the more the name of the other should be in the final part of the author list. Another participant states that one can deal with co-authorships in three different ways: 1. Co-authors should always have full responsibility for everything in the paper. 2. Similar to openness which is given at the end of a movie, co-authors should clarify what each co-author’s contribution was. 3. Only those who really contributed in writing a paper can be a co-author. The participant admits that this last proposal works in his own field but might not work in other fields.
  • Can a researcher exaggerate his findings if he presents them to journalists? Should you keep control over a journalist’s work in order to avoid that he will present things differently? Is it allowed to present untruth information in order to help support your case, just to avoid that a proper scientific argumentation will be too complex for the man in the street?
  • Is it allowed to to present your work as having more societal relevance than you really expect? One of the reactions is that researchers are forced to express the societal relevance of their work when they apply for a grant. From the very nature of scientific research it is hardly possible to clearly indicate what society will gain from the results.
  • What does a good relationship between a PhD-student and a supervisor look like? What is a good balance between serving the interests of PhD students, serving organizational interests (e.g. the future of the organization by attracting new students and grants), and the own interest of the researcher?

The discussion did not concentrate on the following dilemma´s presented in Gewetenschap:

  • To what extent are requirements for grant proposals contradictory? On the one hand, researchers are expected to think ‘out-of-the-box’ while on the other hand they should meet a large amount of requirements. Moreover, should one propose new ideas including the risks which come along, or is it better to walk on the beaten path in order to guarantee successes?
  • Should colleagues who did not show respect be served with the same sauce if you have a chance to review their work? Should you always judge scientific work on its merits? Are there any principles of ‘due process’ which should guide peer review?
  • Whose are the data if someone contributed to them but moves to another research group or institute?


Limitations of citation analysis

An observation at the CWTS Graduate Course Measuring Science: in most lectures, the presenters emphasize not only how indicators can be constructed, measured, and used, but also under what circumstances they should not be applied. Thed van Leeuwen, for example, showed on the basis of the coverage data of the Web of Science that citation analysis should not be applied in many fields in the humanities and social sciences, and certainly not for evaluation purposes. If the references in scientific articles in the Web of Science are analyzed, there are strong field differences in the extent to which they cite articles that are themselves covered by the Web of Science. In biochemistry this is very high (92 %), whereas in the humanities this drops to below 17 %. Since citation analysis is almost always based on Web of Science data, most relevant data on communication in the humanities is missed by citation analysis. Of course, this is well-known and it is the usual argument in the humanities and social sciences against the application of citation analysis. However, this also has meant that most scholars see CWTS principally as associated with any use of citation analysis. CWTS does currently not have a strong reputation as the source of critique of citation analysis, although it has systematically, at least since 1995, criticized the Impact Factor and has also been very critical of the very popular and equally problematic h-index. Interesting mismatch between practice and reputation?

Teaching scientometrics and bibliometrics

Yesterday, the annual Graduate Course Measuring Science started here at CWTS. 24 PhD students and professionals from the information industry (publishers and software houses) are taking week-long a crash course in bibliometrics and scientometrics. Virtually all researchers at CWTS are teaching one or more slots, which gives the students the unique opportunity to get a firm grip on the field from a variety of angles and perspectives. For me, this is a convenient way of immersing myself in the way scientometrics is being done at CWTS and to look at the various methodological debates in the field from the perspective of CWTS. First impression yesterday: the students were bombarded with quite a lot of data and empirical findings, which they seemed to take up calmly. No furious debates yet. But it was only the opening day, so who knows? I am going to discuss the work on modelling the peer review system today, let us see how this goes.

Scientometric chicken

The beautiful building where CWTS is housed is part of Leiden’s cultural heritage. It was the first physiological laboratory of the university, hence it is named after Willem Einthoven. In this area a couple of proud cocks roam the area, quite beautiful and confident animals.

Until recently, they had not seemed to respond storngly to people. However, the day before yesterday, as I approached, they immediately ran over and clearly expected me to feed them. It was the day of the opening of the academic year, so I guessed someone in a black suit (which I was wearing for the occasion) must have the habit of feeding them. As I left them, they seemed genuinely disappointed.

The first week at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies is about to start

This Wednesday, September 1, 2010, I’ll start a new job as director of the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University. Exciting!

CWTS building 

With this blog, I will try to share my personal impressions and experiences at the Centre. Also, and perhaps more importantly, I will use this blog to develop ideas about the role of citation analysis, quantitative indicators, and evaluation at universities and in scientific research. Researchers are increasingly subjected to regular evaluations of their work. Empirical evidence and quantitative indicators have played an ever increasing role in this. It has created what I call a "citation culture" in science. This started in the natural sciences, but nowadays also researchers in the social sciences and in the humanities are confronted with these measures.

I am interested in the question of how this has influenced the act of creating scientific and scholarly knowledge. But I am also intrigued by the potential of quantitative studies of research to get a better understanding of the dynamics of knowledge. And, lastly, will it be possible for individual researchers to get behind the steering wheels of evaluation procedures? Is this something we should aim for?  

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