18.736 measuring and questioning impact

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 24 Apr 2005 07:57:50 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 736.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com> (13)
         Subject: Re: 18.733 how is impact measured?

   [2] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> (32)
         Subject: impact

         Date: Sun, 24 Apr 2005 07:30:20 +0100
         From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com>
         Subject: Re: 18.733 how is impact measured?

A strange version of this happened to a good friend of mine. Early in his
career he had always signed his name one way -- let's say "John A.
Smith". But later he realized he liked his middle name better, so he
started signing himself "J. Albert Smith -- and as he gradually came to be
known in the profession as "Albert", his latest articles were all signed
"Albert Smith".

Well his work was very tightly interlinked,and he often cited his earlier
articles. Sure enough someone used software to find 'the most commonly
cited writers' in the field, and by golly, he was three of them.

>* would it be possible to create a false impact factor by a group of
>authors routinely citing each other in every document they publish? not
>even with the clear intention to obtain/produce a fake impact factor
>measurement, but only because they 'usually cite each other' ?

         Date: Sun, 24 Apr 2005 07:42:54 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: impact

Maurizio Lana, in Humanist 18.733, asks about the measuring of the impact
of scholarly work. Unfortunately his note was rudely reformatted, for which
I apologise. Probably my fault.

It is perhaps not very helpful to argue against the very idea of "impact",
but the metaphor does bother me. It suggests such analogues as bowling pins
impacted by a heavy ball, or one automobile hitting another, doing damage
all around. (True, academics do cherish violent thoughts about each other
sometimes, and the idea of denting another's mind may have a certain
appeal, but still....) "Impact" leads me to a state of positive longing for
the old astrological idea of influence, which in its mysticism carries much
of the unknowable and the puzzling, and does so with a good gentleness. No
dents, simply a certain sympathy, expressed as a changed behaviour, often
without recognition that any change has occurred.

Is it not typical in the humanities for the work of one scholar powerfully
to influence another but require and so receive very little if any explicit
recognition? I speak as someone who has deliberately cultivated an
intensely referential style (massive bibliographies, many footnotes,
numerous "as X has said"s), but still I'd not want to endorse an
automatically calculated ranking of those most influential on my own work.
I suppose over the very long haul the statistics would tell a true story,
but then that story would need to be interpreted -- and that's the rub.
Indeed, the metrics seem to be part of an effort to automate influence,
which is to say, to automate meaning. Ah yes, we recognize the beast now,
don't we?



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Received on Sun Apr 24 2005 - 03:18:56 EDT

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