Scientometrics — a contemporary Sword of Damocles hanging over biomedicine

Scientometrics is a Sword of Damocles hanging over anyone who wants to come to fame and fortune in the field of biomedicine. Coming of age (it’s exactly 50 years since Eugene Garfield started publishing Science Citation Index, now Web of Science), methodologies for the alleged quantitative measurement of ‘scientific excellence’ have proliferated in the last decade — promoted by national science agencies who want to get knowledge value for tax money.

Nature magazine has just published a fairly balanced special issue on the phenomenon, its pros and cons (especially the cons), but also about the difficult trade-off between real, qualitative peer-review evaluation and the fact that the armamentarium of scientometrics after all is there to be used by science bureaucracies. See all the links to the editorial and feature articles here

One question that nobody seems to ask is: Why would a clever young man or woman today go into science with the risk of having such Swords of Damocles hanging over your head?

If I were an intelligent, creative high-school student today, and had the choice between an unsecure job in an increasingly tightly metrically regulated work culture (as science is turning into) and a career in a field where quantitative measures of performance are meaningless (like most of the arts in the wide sense), I would definitely chose the latter — even if it meant less conventional social status.

Is that why the smartest kids I meet all tend to be in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts?

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

More posts by Thomas Söderqvist