Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Kardashian Index: the academics famous just for being famous | Opinion | Times Higher Education


Ranking reveals the scholars whose social media profile exceeds their academic credentials

Do you know what your Kardashian index score is? If not, you should work it out now, according to a paper by Neil Hall, professor of functional and comparative genomics at the University of Liverpool.

Hall’s measure takes its name from Kim Kardashian, the US television
personality who, he says, is famous simply for being famous rather than
for any discernible talent or skill.

“You could say that her
celebrity buys success, which buys greater celebrity,” he writes in the
paper, titled “The Kardashian index: a measure of discrepant social
media profile for scientists” and published in the journal Genome Biology.
“Her fame has meant that comments by Kardashian on issues such as Syria
have been widely reported in the press. Sadly, her interjection on the
crisis has not yet led to a let-up in the violence,” Professor Hall

He believes that there are parallels to be drawn in
academia and, specifically, science. “I think it is possible that there
are individuals who are famous for being famous (or, to put it in
science jargon, renowned for being renowned),” he writes. “We are all
aware that certain people are seemingly invited as keynote speakers, not
because of their contributions to the published literature but because
of who they are.

“In the age of social media there are people who
have high-profile scientific blogs or Twitter feeds but have not
actually published many peer-reviewed papers of significance; in
essence, scientists who are seen as leaders in their field simply
because of their notoriety.”

To explore his theory, Professor Hall
plotted the number of Twitter followers a scientist had against the
number of scientific citations they had received to calculate their
Kardashian index score. Those individuals with a highly over-inflated
number of followers (compared with the number that would be expected)
are the Kardashians.

“Social media make it very easy for people to
build a seemingly impressive persona by essentially ‘shouting louder’
than others,” he says. “I propose that all scientists calculate their
own K-index on an annual basis and include it in their Twitter profile.”

only will this help others decide how much weight they should give to
these scholars’ tweets, he writes, but it might also incentivise those
who are high up the K-index to “get off Twitter and write those papers”.

in my analysis, very few women (only one in fact) had a highly inflated
Twitter following, while most (11/14) had fewer followers than would be
expected,” he adds. “Hence, most Kardashians are men!”

The study
“does not prove that we, as a community, are continuing to ignore
women”, or that women are “less likely to engage in self-promotion”, he
says, but it is consistent with either or both of these scenarios.

don’t blame Kim Kardashian or her science equivalents for exploiting
their fame; who wouldn’t?” Professor Hall concludes. “However, I think
it’s time that we develop a metric that will clearly indicate if a
scientist has an overblown public profile so that we can adjust our
expectations of them accordingly.”

Kardashian Index: the academics famous just for being famous | Opinion | Times Higher Education

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