En blogg från Högskolan i Borås

söndag 21 november 2010

So popular and original, yet so static and corruptible: The bibliometrical controversy

Gästinlägg av Isaac Kamya Nsubuga, student på kursen Vetenskaplig publicering

The scientific value of bibliometrics should not be underestimated. Bibliometrics is known to have been used, and to have been useful, already during the earlier 20th century. Bibliometrics did, on the other hand, not become commonly applied in research until the technological take-off of the 1960’s. Today, the number of scientific areas where bibliometrics is being used is growing fast. The fact that bibliometrics can easily be connected to quantitative analysis may be seen as a characteristic of originality. That is, if compared to other methods that are known to apply multiple techniques. On the other hand there are scholars who choose to view this single connection as a limitation in methodology. These scholars do mean that the pillars onto which bibliometrics lean need to be transformed. Kärki and Kortelainen (1998, p.66) [1] explain and show how scholars like Glänzel & Schoepflin (1994) [2] advocate for a need to improve bibliometrics through basic research. That way, both theory and methodology will acquire a firmer ground which will be less liable to political manipulation.

Kärki and Kortelainen (1998, p.66) also mention a detectable fault in the internal communication between bibliometricians. The theory of bibliometrics has also sometimes been considered to be rather static and unchanging over decades. Nordic researchers Kärki and Kortelainen (1998, p.1) wrote about one of the aims of their book, to create a Swedish bibliometrical terminology. They claimed not to have been totally satisfied with their accomplishment on this issue. This was probably because of varied perspectives they came across during their work. Moreover, several terms originating in the English language were already in use in Swedish.

My main concern is the methodological bias of bibliometrics towards quantitative methodology, as well as the non-functional internal communication between bibliometricians that I mentioned earlier. Furthermore, there seems to be evidence of different bibliometricians reaching different results of the same phenomenon. Bibliometrical theory is said to offer no methodological consensus, either. This gives the funders (decision makers) of bibliometric research too much free room to order particular results. The resulting effect is an increased risk for quality depreciation of results, as well as paving way for political bias.

Despite its apparent shortcomings, bibliometrics is genuinely appreciated by scientists. The methods’ current expansion in use seem logical enough explanation for this. I believe that increased demand is a receipt for appreciation. Neither are the other methods without fault. When it comes to decision-making, for example, neither traditional evaluation nor bibliometrical indicators are recommended to use alone. Kärki and Kortelainen (1998, p.56) recommend a combination of both methods.

As far as the pattern of development in the area of bibliometrics is concerned, it might no longer be true that bibliometrics is static. The number of areas of bibliometric application is increasing. The number of different ways in which the technique is applied is also increasing. Bibliometrics may, on the other hand, be considered to be a springboard to “new” methods like webmetrics and cybermetrics, but still unchanged within itself.

Borgman & Furner (2002, pp.3-5) [3] wrote:
“Bibliometrics offers a powerful set of methods and measures for studying the structure and process of scholarly communication. /…/
In addition to bibliometrics, scientometrics, and informetrics, we now have “cybermetrics” (the title of an electronic journal) and “Webometrics” (Almind & Ingwersen, 1997). [4] /…/
Bibliometrics is now an accepted method in the sociology of science (J.R. Cole, 2000; Cronin & Atkins, 2000; Merton, 2000), [5] /…/”

To my ears, this last quotation resounds with “So popular and original, yet so static and corruptible”.

[1] Kärki, Riitta & Kortelainen, Terttu (1998). Introduktion till bibliometri. NORDINFO no. 41. Tillgänglig via [2010-11-03].
[2] Glänzel, Wolfgang & Schoepflin, Urs (1994). Little scientometrics, big scientometrics ... and beyond? Scientometrics 30(2-3): 375-384.
[3] Borgman, Christine L. & Furner, Jonathan (2002). Scholarly communication and bibliometrics. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, vol. 36. Medford, NJ: Information Today. 2-72.
[4] Almind, T. C. & Ingwersen, P. (1997). Informetric analyses on the World Wide Web: Methodological approaches to “Webometrics”. Journal of Documentation, 53: 404-426.
[5] All these references can be found in B. Cronin & H. B. Atkins (Eds.), The web of knowledge: A festschrift in honor of Eugene Garfield (pp. 1-7). Medford, NJ: Information Today.

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