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Counting Highly Cited Papers for University Research Assessment: Conceptual and Technical Issues
Published: Friday, October 12, 2012
Author: Alonso Rodríguez-Navarro

by Alonso Rodríguez-Navarro

A Kuhnian approach to research assessment requires us to consider that the important scientific breakthroughs that drive scientific progress are infrequent and that the progress of science does not depend on normal research. Consequently, indicators of research performance based on the total number of papers do not accurately measure scientific progress. Similarly, those universities with the best reputations in terms of scientific progress differ widely from other universities in terms of the scale of investments made in research and in the higher concentrations of outstanding scientists present, but less so in terms of the total number of papers or citations. This study argues that indicators for the 1% high-citation tail of the citation distribution reveal the contribution of universities to the progress of science and provide quantifiable justification for the large investments in research made by elite research universities. In this tail, which follows a power low, the number of the less frequent and highly cited important breakthroughs can be predicted from the frequencies of papers in the upper part of the tail. This study quantifies the false impression of excellence produced by multinational papers, and by other types of papers that do not contribute to the progress of science. Many of these papers are concentrated in and dominate lists of highly cited papers, especially in lower-ranked universities. The h-index obscures the differences between higher- and lower-ranked universities because the proportion of h-core papers in the 1% high-citation tail is not proportional to the value of the h-index.
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