Personnel 'can't be chosen on citations alone'

January 31, 2013

Universities should not depend solely on citation statistics when making personnel decisions, the new head of Thomson Reuters’ Scientific and Scholarly Research unit has said.

Gordon Macomber, who was appointed the unit’s managing director earlier this month, described citations as a “wonderful methodology” to analyse research because they are generated entirely by researchers themselves “based on their need to produce the best research”.

But he said his company - which owns the widely used Web of Knowledge and Web of Science citation databases - had no control over the quality of the decisions its customers make, and admitted that over-reliance on citations in judging individual academics’ performance had led to some “bad decisions”.

“There are a lot of other variables on the table when you are making personnel decisions,” he said.

Mr Macomber also unveiled plans to set up a customer advisory board and user forums to help co-create future products. He said this reflected a cultural shift whereby the company now regarded its products as belonging to its customers.

He said Thomson Reuters was monitoring the rise of article-level metrics and altmetrics - such as the number of mentions a paper receives on blogs and in social media - “trying to tease out what looks right for us to become involved in”.

But his unwillingness to jeopardise the Web of Knowledge’s reputation as the “gold standard” of metrics meant he would not be “quick to make adjustments”.

That reputation also justified the platform’s exclusivity in terms of the journals it indexed; critics have claimed that this makes it less useful to large, emerging research powers such as India, whose academics often publish in non-indexed journals, than its rivals.

He did not regard his company as being in competition with other platforms such as Google Scholar and Elsevier’s Scopus, insisting that they were complementary.

“We do a lot of human curation, whereas Google Scholar is more algorithmically generated. The Web of Knowledge is relied on for consistency and transparency,” he said.

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