Popularity x Prestige in science – what matters most?

In my last blog article I wrote that science is in a moment of “transformation” like any other field mainly because of the Web 2.0 revolution – which implies that the user has the power to insert and delete whatever he wants in websites, mainly social networks and information sites such as Wikipedia, Facebook, blogs, and etc. Society is dealing with a lot of privacy issues concerning these new internet advances. Some people think this is not a good sign, however any evolving field brings good and “evil” outcomes and society has to deal with it. In its early years, for example, the company Google stated that they would never play “evil” and collect private data from people using their search engine. It looks like this is not the case now that we know they are facing some problems with privacy, especially in China and in Europe. In the same fashion, Facebook faces increasing privacy issues and problems. Anyway, the point of this new blog article is focused in the scientific field. The point is that our research and reputation (and by our I mean every scientist in the world) is basically measured by the research we do. This means that if we can get our results to be published in high impact scientific journals our “prestige” in the scientific community will be good. The Impact Factor or IF of a journal was developed by Eugene Garfield of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) and it has been the main method to determine the impact of a scientific research discovery. However, in the “Google age” we have been facing a very interesting trend which is the fact that the search results or ranking that Google gives for a specific article or journal is different from the IF calculated by ISI. This is explained by the fact that these two sources use different methods and algorithms to calculate the impact of articles and  journals. It is clear now that “popularity” that Google searches gives us does not overlap with the IF provided by ISI. The conclusion is that we need to come up with different methods to calculate the impact factor of research discoveries and journals. In that regard, currently available methods for evaluation of the quality of scientific papers and status are undergoing a profound re-evaluation. The question now is what matters most? Popularity or Prestige? A recent article is proposing a formula for this complicated issue (for more details see: “Impact Factor Page Rankled” by Hascall, Bollen and Hanson, 2007). A new formula that takes into account the algorithm from Google for web searches and the IF from ISI can be combined in a very elegant manner. Larry Page, one of the Google founders published the algorithm (see article: “The anatomy of a large-scale hypertextual Web search engine” by Brin and Page, 1998) they use in Google Search Engine. The ranking used by IF is mainly based in their own method for calculation which evaluates the number of citations a journal receives over a 2 year period divided by the number of research papers and reviews published in that journal. It is becoming clear that as the scientific material becomes available for free download in the Web 2.0 era with Open Access Journals popping up everywhere, and hence become searchable through Google, our perception of article popularity will change as a result of the recently suggested  Page Rankled and not the IF alone. I am quite sure that a new revolution in the journal and article classification industry has already started. Now we just need to search our articles using Google and see how popular they are independent in which journal they were published in…

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