Impact Factor, Citation Index, H-Index: are researchers still free to choose where and how to publish their results?

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Stefano Solarino


Over the last decade, the demand to evaluate the impact of any given research study, the credentials of a researcher, and the influence that any single research unit or agency has on the world of research has constantly grown. Many tools have been developed and applied to evaluate the level of innovation, originality and continuity of a single researcher in an objective way. As a consequence, there are comparisons of the performances of different research agencies. Some of these tools, which often provide the result as an ‘index’, are briefly described in this study. However, it is clearly evident that the evaluations provided by these instruments do not always correspond to the real impact of the research, nor are they unique. Indeed, the same index computed using similar criteria on different databases gives different scores, which can lead to confusion and contradictions. In this contribution, the principal anomalies, problems and failures of these evaluation schemes are described. The most evident of these arise from the nature of the evaluation, which being automated, cannot establish the role of any single researcher in papers of ‘pooled’ research, and cannot recognize similar or duplicated papers by the same researcher(s) in more than one journal. The ‘selecting’ effects that these evaluation indices can have on the research are then discussed. Indeed, in an attempt to obtain the highest possible scores in terms of citations, there is a tendency of the single scholar to avoid studies that deal with small areas, or with scientific problems that do not have a broad interest or provide applicative results. In all of these cases, an article describing such studies will in all likelihood appear in a ‘minor journal’ (one with a low impact factor). As a consequence, this will provide a low citation index, will not significantly contribute to the authors’ H-index, and/or will only be published as a report. Moreover, a discussion on the role that these evaluation indices can have in the world of research is presented. Particular attention is paid to the consequences in the field of the geoethics, where scientific, technological, methodological and socio-cultural aspects need to be considered in a different order to that expected in a pure meritocracy.

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How to Cite
Solarino, S. (2012) “Impact Factor, Citation Index, H-Index: are researchers still free to choose where and how to publish their results?”, Annals of Geophysics, 55(3). doi: 10.4401/ag-5518.

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