Sunday, 6 March 2016

Impact of Social Sciences – The role of ego in academic profile services: Comparing Google Scholar, ResearchGate, Mendeley, and ResearcherID


The role of ego in academic profile services: Comparing Google Scholar, ResearchGate, Mendeley, and ResearcherID

eco belfast smallAcademic profiling services are a pervasive feature of scholarly life. Alberto Martín-MartínEnrique Orduna-Malea and Emilio Delgado López-Cózar discuss
the advantages and disadvantages of major profile platforms and look at
the role of ego in how these services are built and used. Scholars
validate these services by using them and should be aware that the
portraits shown in these platforms depend to a great extent on the
characteristics of the “mirrors” themselves.

The model of scientific communication has recently undergone a major
transformation: the shift from the “Gutenberg galaxy” to the “Web
galaxy”. Following in the footsteps of this shift, we are now also
witnessing a turning point in the way science is evaluated. The
“Gutenberg paradigm” limited research products to the printed world
(books, journals, conference proceedings…) published by scholarly
publishers. This model for scientific dissemination has been challenged
since the end of the twentieth century by a plethora of new
communication channels that allow scientific information to be
(self-)published, indexed, searched, located, read, and discussed
entirely on the public Web, one more example of the network society we live in.

In this new scenario, a set of new scientific tools are now providing
a variety of metrics that measure all actions and interactions in which
scientists take part in the digital space, making some hitherto
overlooked aspects of the scientific enterprise emerge as objects of
study. In the words of Jason Priem
the First Revolution promoted the homogeneity of outputs (through
academic journals, the main communication channel), and the Second
Revolution promotes the diversity of outputs. We can draw a comparison
between those revolutions and the changes that are taking place in the
field of scientific evaluation: the First Revolution promoted the
homogeneity of performance metrics (through the Impact Factor, the “gold
standard” of scientific evaluation), and the Second Revolution promotes
a diversity of metrics (h-index, altmetrics, usage metrics). The
emergence of academic profiling services (most of them created in 2008)
was a collateral consequence.

researchgate google scholar timeline

Because each of these tools focuses on fulfilling a different set of
needs, caters to a specific audience (diverse communities), and provides
a variety of different metrics, it stands to reason that they should
reflect different sides of academic impact. Each platform becomes then a
mirror reflecting the likeness of the communities that use it.

Recently, we set out to radiograph the discipline of Bibliometrics,
not only trying to identify the core authors, documents, journals, and
the most influential publishers in the field, but also comparing the
diverse portraits shown by each platform, with special attention to the
one offered by Google Scholar Citations. We collected data for a sample
of 814 researchers who work mainly or incidentally in the field of
Bibliometrics. These data can be browsed in the website Scholar Mirrors, and an analysis of the results can be found in this working paper.

During this exercise we isolated some of the main features of these
academic profiling services (Google Scholar Citations, ResearchGate,
Mendeley, and ResearcherID) in terms of their general advantages and
disadvantages, which are summarized below in Table 1.

google scholar research gate comparison table

Each academic profile platform offered distinct and complementary
data on the impact of scientific and academic activities as a
consequence of their different user bases, document coverage, specific
policies, and technical features. Not all platforms have a homogenous
coverage of all scientific disciplines. Likewise, their user bases
aren’t uniform either. Researchers should be aware that the bibliometric
portraits shown in these platforms depend to a great extent on the
individual characteristics of the “mirrors” themselves.

Google Scholar Citations profiles draw upon
the vast coverage of Google Scholar (giving voice to all disciplines,
languages, countries; academics and professionals) at the cost of a
little accuracy (errors in parsing citations or authorship) and with an
austere approach (few indicators, and little user interaction).
Nonetheless, it offers the most advanced management system for versions
and duplicates.

Regarding ResearchGate, the great amount of
documents already uploaded by a growing user base (especially from the
biomedicine community) supports the usefulness of some of its indicators
(especially Views and Downloads, now combined into Reads). However, the lack of transparency
compromises its reliability. Likewise, unannounced changes in some of
its key features make this platform unpredictable at the moment.

Mendeley, despite being an excellent social
reference manager, offers the most basic author profiling capabilities
of all the platforms we analysed, although we should acknowledge the
usefulness of the Reader metric. The term used to define this metric is,
however, misleading, because it doesn’t accurately reflect the nature
of the metric. Lastly, the fact that profiles aren’t automatically
updated makes the system completely dependent on user activity. This
fact strongly limits the use of Mendeley’s profile page for evaluating purposes.

ResearcherID does not offer automatic
profile updates either. As a result, a great percentage of profiles have
no public contributions listed in their profile (34.4% in our sample of
bibliometricians, which should be the ones who are most aware of these
tools). Moreover, we found errors in citation counts inherited from the
Web of Science. A word of warning: the Web of Science also makes

At any rate, the growth of academic profiling services is unstoppable, and practices like the aggressive marketing used by ResearchGate
fuel the ego that dwells in every researcher through the systematic
e-mail bombing directed to the Narcissus that lives inside of us. The
potential positive effects are clear: new channels of information and
new collaboration tools. However, this road might also lead us to look
ourselves in the scholar mirror every day, and there lies the path to
the Dark Side.

Paraphrasing Bill Clinton’s famous quote for the 1992 North American presidential campaign: “it’s the economy, stupid!
we could now state the following: it’s not the collaboration; it’s the
ego, stupid! Ego moves Academia. These new platforms, whether they are
integrated in other products or not, will be massively used by
universities, research institutions, and national funding agencies to
evaluate scholars, because scholars are validating them by using them
massively. Hence, we should not conclude without warning about the
dangers of blindly using any of these platforms for the assessment of
individuals without verifying the veracity and exhaustiveness of the

This blog post is based on a working paper which can be found here. All the data obtained for each author profile and the results of the analysis can be found at Scholar Mirrors.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the
position of the LSE Impact blog, nor of the London School of Economics.
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About the Authors

Alberto Martín-Martín is a PhD Candidate in the field of bibliometrics and scientific communication at the Universidad de Granada (UGR).

Enrique Orduna-Malea works as a postdoctoral researcher at the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV).

Emilio Delgado López-Cózar is a Professor of Research Methods at the Universidad of Granada (UGR).

Impact of Social Sciences – The role of ego in academic profile services: Comparing Google Scholar, ResearchGate, Mendeley, and ResearcherID

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