Jack of All Meetings

Don’t be misled by citation figures! (25)
by Ralf Neumann, Labtimes 05/2010

Journal Tuning

Softing started to curse his job as dean of his faculty. Since taking over this duty a couple of months previous, he was having to manage several new appointments more or less at the same time. And he made no secret of the fact that he intensely disliked the whole fuss surrounding it.

Right now, Behavioural Biology was at the forefront. Despite the massive reduction of behavioural biology elsewhere in the country, his faculty had actually managed to save the respective chair. This success, for example, was one of the more worthwhile things for a dean to get involved with.

Anyway, a thick folder now lay on Softing’s desk. He leafed through it and found that his staff had already done a great job: publication lists of all candidates, including their citation counts, were neatly filed together.

Although some of his colleagues in the commission had a different view, Softing himself didn’t care a lot about paper quantity and citation counts as criteria for the quality of a given candidate; in particular, since behavioural biology isn’t exactly a discipline for which work is cited at inflationary rates. Nevertheless, Softing thought, it would certainly do no harm to have this data at hand – and he began to take a look at the folder.

It wasn’t long before one particular candidate attracted his attention. His name was Hoarder and had been professor in the Netherlands for quite a while. “Probably some English guy, wanting to move back because he would prefer his children to go to school here,” thought Softing.

Hoarder’s list of publications seemed very impressive indeed. While the other candidates came up with about 30-60 items, Hoarder easily surpassed them all with 188 carefully numbered references.

Softing hadn’t really planned to delve too deeply into the documents but this case had aroused his curiosity and he decided to take a closer look. The citation counts… well, the majority of Hoarder’s items were cited between one and ten times. Okay, you couldn’t really expect higher counts from behavioural biologists since the whole field completely lacks the kind of citation “blockbusters” found in cancer research or microbiology. In addition, he found about ten articles with more than ten citations and about 40 with not one at all – which also seemed fairly normal.

“Well, let’s take a look at the journals in which Hoarder has been published,” thought Softing. And, sure enough, he had soon identified about 25 editorials Hoarder had written in the Journal of Mating Behaviour. “Well, what do you say to that?” mused Softing, “He’s probably the Chief Editor of that journal; or even one of its founders!” And, mentally, Softing subtracted the 25 items from Hoarder’s list.

A minute later he faltered again: the word “Proceedings” leaped up off the page about 40 to 50 times. However, it never involved the famous Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. No, instead, Symposium Proceedings were being referenced. “Ah, this Hoarder is one of those sorts,” Softing groaned. “Shows up at every symposium that’s available in an effort to sell all the poor stuff that no ordinary journal will take.”

Softing knew what he was talking about. He had also organised some larger meetings himself, including, incidentally, the publication of the associated Proceedings issues. And his view was clear and firm in this respect since it is, at best, the mediocre stuff presented in those Proceedings, which, in addition, is usually reviewed very sloppily.

Yet, even those contributions attract one or the other quotation – so too in Hoarder’s case. And, in a field where there are only modest citation rates to be had, you can of course rather score some points this way, Softing thought, disapprovingly – and slammed the folder shut with a loud condemning bang.

Last Changed: 03.05.2012

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