People getting crazy about the h-index

3 05 2010
My h-index Turns 40: My Midlife Crisis of Impact

I was oblivious to the awesome power of the h-index as a self-assessment tool, in part because it was pretty difficult to calculate. Who’s going to do an exhaustive literature search, sort the papers by number of citations, and count down? Then one magical day, I was using Web of Science, and a link appeared: “Create Citation Report”. I clicked. Mirabile dictu! The sorted list of publications appeared, with the h-index calculated and prominently demarcated in the publication list by a horizontal Green Line through the publication list. I immediately used the “Author Finder” feature to search myself, and Created my Citation Report. The result: My h-index was 40. Green Line at 40. Forty papers, cited forty times.

The strategy I have outlined can be generally applied with great profit to a variety of situations for the general manipulation of impact and impact factors, which we can all agree is necessarily a central guiding principle in academia. Although it probably has not occurred to them, Journal Editors would certainly profit from active impact management. Department Chairs should be actively managing the impact of their junior faculty members, as soon there will be an h-bar set (seriously no pun intended…) for evaluating tenure cases. The world is changing rapidly. There is too much information. There simply is not time to read papers in any meaningful way. Concise and quantitative metrics are coming at you like an avalanche. Adapt or Perish.

James R. Williamson

ACS Chem. Biol., 2009, 4, pp 311–313
Fraud, the h-index, and Pasternak

There is a tremendous frenzy about the simple publication metrics among scientists of all calibers. Take, for instance, the h-index, which is a great reflection on how our community behaves. Discussion of new faculty candidates necessarily involves someone bringing up the h-index of the person in question. I have known academic researchers who track the h-indices of their friends, making diagrams similar to those of the stock market. Another colleague of mine takes every opportunity to mention that the h-index depends strongly on the field. There are also examples of scientists who advertise their h-index on the front page of their web site. …

Overall, the more simplified and metric-driven the evaluation of scientific work becomes, the more susceptible science will be to deceit and petty tricks. No one needs a numericalscore to establish that Van Gogh painted or that Pasternak wrote at a highly creative level. Reduction of talent to a number, such as the cost of a painting or manuscript at auction, leads to new methods of manipulations. While the h-index does have some utility and convenience, the dangers of simple numbers and unhealthy consequences of their frequent consumption, just like simple sugars, need to be remembered very well. The race for a high h-index and its dark side must not replace the joys of creative work and adventures of unraveling a challenging scientific problem about which one feels strongly regardless of what may be its “off-Broadway” status. Who knows what may lead to the next breakthrough in science or technology, as has happened many times in the past?

Nicholas A. Kotov
ACS Nano, 2010, 4, pp 585–586