A review of the #AHSSmetrics conference

Stephanie Meece, Scholarly Communications Manager at University of the Arts London, summarised the Bibliometrics in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences conference at the end of the event. Here she offers her reflections on the event.

On Friday, 24 March 2017, I attended the meeting of the LIS-Bibliometrics group in London. Although I have been on the mailing list for this group for some time, I had never attended an event; I had feared it was going to be a day of maths and statistics, and was happy to find out that it was not at all the case.  I also wondered how anyone could spend a day talking about bibliometrics for AHSS when it’s very clear that much of AHSS scholarship is still print-only, and that the standard bibliometrics services index a relatively low proportion of the AHSS journals. I found that there was indeed a lot to talk about, as these constraints spurred originality and creative thinking, to find alternative ways to track the impact of research in non-STM fields.

By the end of the day, I had noticed that despite the wide variety of backgrounds of the speakers we heard, a few of the same ideas came up repeatedly, though expressed differently and reflected by their own experiences and research interests.

The idea of ‘telling the story of our research’ (Jane Winters, Emily Rosamond) was attractive to many speakers. Researchers in arts and humanities can be suspicious of metrics, but phrased as narrative, rather than metrics, the same data can be welcomed. Certainly most academics do like hearing the number of times their work has been downloaded. We are seeing the growth of an audit culture in academia – we should be critical of this, but also realistic: we are unlikely to see a reversal of this trend  (Harzing).  Academics aren’t the only people who feel anxious about having their reputations quantified (Emily Rosamond);  ‘black box methodologies’ are being applied to us all, which is an understandable cause of anxiety. Tying these methodologies back to stories perhaps would ease some anxiety around metrics.

Also, again and again we saw the breadth of the methods to obtain relevant, interesting bibliometrics in arts and humanities, and the range and diversity of things we use metrics for.

Regarding methods, the important of a pragmatic approach was stressed: universal informed peer review is impossible (Harzing).  An ideal peer review, with informed, dedicated, appropriate experts, will always be better than metrics, especially if metrics are thought of in a reductionist way. But an inclusive version of metrics is better than the likely reality of peer review: hurried, done by semi-experts, and potentially biased (Harzing).

The language of metrics can be off-putting to scholars of arts and humanities. Should we even use the word ‘metrics’, which implies quantification and a pretense of objectivity that arts and humanities scholars are sceptical of? Perhaps other words like ‘proxies’ (Sumi David), reputation, influence, and the diffusion of ideas make more sense in arts and humanities. In any case, I believe we created a neologism, ‘metrifying’: there was mention of ‘metrifying personality’ and ‘metrifying reputation’.

By the end of the day, there were several participants who said they’d found inspiration that would be tangibly useful in normal work, ideas for a new project, or a new direction to do some work in. I think that’s the best indication that the day was a success.


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