09 March 2006

Is citation count a good basis on which to give a particular author credit or favour?

Quote of the Week - A computer is almost human - except that it does not blame its mistakes on another computer. {Author unknown}

To the question of citation counting. The answer would seem to be a resounding no. I asked myself this question after reading an article whereby an author of a library-related article outlined in the course of the article, quite a number of flaws with literature written by other librarians. An author may have been cited 20 times, but this is not conclusive the author was cited favourably. The paragraph in which the author was cited and indeed, the articles written by the author should be evaluated in order to determine if the author is truly an expert, whether they have delved deeply or just written superficially about the topic. Be wary of crediting someone on the basis of citation count alone. If someone has been cited 100 times, it might be the case that 90/100 times another author may have highlighted flaws, or discrepancies and incomprehensive observations on the part of the original author's research or article. This question was raised many years ago by Garfield, (1978) in his article entitled, "Is citation analysis a legitimate evaluation tool?"
The following is an abstract of this article: "The general adverse criticism that citation counts include an excessive number of negative citations (citations to incorrect results worthy of attack), self-citations (citations to the works of the citing authors), and citations to methodological papers is analyzed. Included are a discussion of measurement problems such as counting citations for multiauthored papers, distinguishing between more than one person with the same last name (homographs), and what it is that citation analysis actually measures."
Citation searching has its place and is a very powerful research tool in order to track research in a field or research done by a particular person. To use a quantitative numbers-based process alone is shoddy and it is advisable to use other methods to evaluate the quality of what is written; expert panels, peer reviews, etc.

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