Does bibliometric research confer legitimacy to research assessment practice? A sociological study of reputational control, 1972-2016
peter.suber's bookmarks 2019-01-07
Abstract: The use of bibliometric measures in the evaluation of research has increased considerably based on expertise from the growing research field of evaluative citation analysis (ECA). However, mounting criticism of such metrics suggests that the professionalization of bibliometric expertise remains contested. This paper investigates why impact metrics, such as the journal impact factor and the h-index, proliferate even though their legitimacy as a means of professional research assessment is questioned. Our analysis is informed by two relevant sociological theories: Andrew Abbott’s theory of professions and Richard Whitley’s theory of scientific work. These complementary concepts are connected in order to demonstrate that ECA has failed so far to provide scientific authority for professional research assessment. This argument is based on an empirical investigation of the extent of reputational control in the relevant research area. Using three measures of reputational control that are computed from longitudinal inter-organizational networks in ECA (1972–2016), we show that peripheral and isolated actors contribute the same number of novel bibliometric indicators as central actors. In addition, the share of newcomers to the academic sector has remained high. These findings demonstrate that recent methodological debates in ECA have not been accompanied by the formation of an intellectual field in the sociological sense of a reputational organization. Therefore, we conclude that a growing gap exists between an academic sector with little capacity for collective action and increasing demand for routine performance assessment by research organizations and funding agencies. This gap has been filled by database providers. By selecting and distributing research metrics, these commercial providers have gained a powerful role in defining de-facto standards of research excellence without being challenged by expert authority.