Last week’s press release from UCSC touts one of their favorite statistics: research influence. [UCSC still in top three for research influence in world university rankings]
The idea is simple—count citations and do some mysterious (and apparently undocumented) correction for fields and perhaps other things. The press release claims that the research influence number is citations/paper, but I think it might be normalized in some other way—I can’t tell from the documentation. The website that reports the results has some of the worst documentation of methodology I’ve seen. For that matter, a lot of the assumptions of the statistics are really dubious (like that high doctorate-to-bachelor’s ratios improve teaching).
So despite the really questionable data and interpretation of the Times Higher Education ranking, UCSC loves that we have a lot of citations. I guess I’m doing my part (Google Scholar lists me as having 6243 citations, 2584 since 2007), but my citations peaked in 2005 and have been dropping off a bit since then. I’ve mainly been publishing as a collaborator lately, and most of those papers have pretty small audiences. I think that I may be rather low in the rankings for our department, since a lot of the highly cited genome papers have Jim Kent and David Haussler as authors. They’ve also built tools that are used by 100s of times as many people as my tools are.
The way to get huge citation numbers is to produce a tool that everyone uses, and ask them all to cite the same paper. No one will actually read the paper, but you’ll get huge citation numbers. My most cited paper (over 1000 citations) is almost certainly not being read that much. This may seem unfair, getting citations for a paper that no one reads, but if the tool is really used by a lot of people, it is having a huge research influence, so the measure is not really being corrupted.
On the other hand, my most influential work (a plucked-string synthesis algorithm) has only about 300 citations, but is mentioned on over 34,000 web pages (according to Google) and is incorporated into many computer programs and synthesizers, so citation counts don’t tell the full story of influence.
Still, it’s nice to see our campus get some good news, since so much of what we get is bad news about the budget.