1 Aug 2013

International Society of Scientometrics and Informetrics Conference / Vienna, July 2013 - Insights and Perspectives

Guest Post by Michael Ladisch, Assistant Librarian at UCD Library

Attending conferences is always a nice break from the daily routine. But more importantly, you learn about cutting edge research in a field, you can strengthen existing networks or establish new connections, you get ideas and exchange experiences. The location shouldn’t really matter as long as the event is well organised and it doesn’t need to be a tourist hotspot (ever been to Milton Keynes, UK, or Bielefeld, Germany?) But sometimes you are lucky and the conference is in an interesting place you’ve never visited before.

The biennial conference of the International Society of Scientometrics and Informetrics was held in Vienna, Austria, from 15th-19th July 2013. This is one of the main conferences in the discipline, attracting about 400 participants from 42 countries this year. Previous ISSI conferences took place in Brazil and South Africa, so the short distance to Austria (relatively speaking) made it possible for me to attend.

The venue was spectacular: University of Vienna, founded in 1365, is located in the heart of the city, walking distance from many of the famous sights, but an impressive building complex by itself (actually, there are university locations in other parts of Vienna as well; the 90,000 students wouldn’t have enough space in the main building).Especially during plenary sessions in the Grosse Festsaal (Main Ceremonial Chamber) self-discipline was needed not to be distracted by wonderful wall and ceiling paintings.

Coffee and lunch breaks were spent in the courtyard, which fortunately provided some shade as temperatures were close to 30 degrees all the time.

But this is not a travel blog - so, what was the conference about? Scientometrics is a sub-field of Information Science, using often (but not exclusively) bibliometric methods to measure and analyse research. It includes such topics as citation analysis, collaboration studies, studies in university ranking, altmetrics, patent analysis, journal impact measures, etc. etc.

About 150 papers and 100 posters were presented in three very intense days on recent research being done in the discipline. Naturally, I couldn’t attend everything; I always had to choose one of four parallel panels, so my report can’t be comprehensive. Those of you interested in specific topics can access the programme and conference proceedings (about 2200 pages in print) at http://www.issi2013.org.

The panels I went to were about citation analysis, citations in full texts, usage metrics, altmetrics (of course), document types (other than journal articles) and monographs, just to name a few. Presenters talked about research projects that might improve bibliometric methods and looked into new ways of measuring research impact which can then be used for funding, recruitment or promotion decisions.  Here are a few examples:
  • Wouters: Counting publications and citations: Is more always better? (it is not – a higher citation count doesn’t necessarily mean a higher impact)
  • Strotmann: Author name co-mention analysis (based on full text analysis, this is still research in progress, but might become a useful tool in the Social Sciences and Humanities)
  • Guerrero-Bote: Relationship between downloads and citations (use of downloads as predictions for citations is limited and different in different areas) 
  • Holmberg: Disciplinary differences in Twitter scholarly communication (researchers share more links and re-tweet more than the average Twitter user; there is less scholarly tweeting in economics and history)
  • Cabezas-Clavijo: Most borrowed is most cited? (analysing loans in university libraries of Vienna and Grenada; no or only weak correlation between loans and citations)
What struck me at some point was that so many of the studies were based on Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus data. There were papers based on PubMed, Google Scholar or other data as well (see examples above), but in general bibliometric research is often focused on disciplines that are well covered by Thomson Reuters’ and Elsevier’s products. This excludes many areas, especially in the Social Sciences and Humanities. One paper (Chi: Do non-source items make a difference?) looked at the WoS representation of publications from two major Political Science departments in Germany (Muenster and Mannheim). Only 7% of the publications were listed in WoS. Here was the big elephant in the room: What are we NOT counting? What are we missing?

Though sometimes carried away by their WoS/Scopus based (and sometimes funded) research projects most bibliometricians are aware of this problem (and several papers addressed it). In two very interesting plenary sessions the consequences of bibliometrics research were discussed together with the request for improved and new methodologies. Due to lack of reliable data in some disciplines bibliometric methods should always be used with caution.

The vice-president for research of University of Vienna, Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, said quite directly: “We have to think twice before using your data. But you have the responsibility to realise your role in a more fundamental way. … We need to take decisions on the basis of data on impact. We look at published articles and at Impact Factors. As a researcher, I know that this is incorrect since these indicators do not directly reflect quality. But as a manager, I do not know what to do else.” (for more details see this blog post)

Probably the most important plenary session was on “Methodological and Ethical Problems of Individual-Level Evaluative Bibliometrics”. Paul Wouters (Univ. Leiden) and Wolfgang Glänzel (Univ. Leuven) presented their “10 Dos and Don'ts” in bibliometrics when it comes to assessing individual researchers. These points will be discussed in the bibliometrics community and might become something like a code of ethics. Some of the points are rather obvious (“Don’t rank scientists according to one indicator”), others were more surprising and will probably cause a stir (“Don’t use impact factors as a measure of quality for individual researchers”).

Hopefully, slides of the presentation will be available online (some of them are already on different platforms). If interested in a specific PPT we are asked to contact the authors. The direct link to proceedings is http://www.issi2013.org/proceedings.html. If you want to read the conference tweets search for hashtag #issi2013.

What else did I bring back from the conference? I felt that only one participant from Ireland (and I’m not even Irish) at such a high profile conference is not enough to represent our community. We should look more often and more closely at what’s happening in continental Europe. We are well connected with UK institutions, but there is also a lot of interesting stuff (not only in bibliometrics, but in library-related issues generally) going on in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and especially in the Scandinavian countries. Language is not a problem as everybody at such events is rather fluent in English. And travelling to Antwerp, Copenhagen or Vienna isn’t a much bigger effort than going to Glasgow or Canterbury. So, hopefully, at the next ISSI Conference 2015 in Istanbul there will be a larger delegation from Ireland. I can certainly recommend it.

Please, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or questions (michael.ladisch[at]ucd.ie) or follow my (infrequent) tweets at @MichaelUCDLib.


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