Unholy goals and flawed methods





Bibliometrics, h-index, the Bibliometric Research Indicator, Den bibliometriske Forskningsindikator, research evaluation


A problematic practice has evolved, which is threatening to undermine research in the social sciences and humanities. Bibliometrics is often claimed to be able to measure researchers’ efficiency. We find this quite problematic and, in this article, we illustrate this point by discussing two different bibliometric practices. One is the so-called h-index, the other the so-called BFI-points (Den bibliometriske Forskningsindikator, The Bibliometric Research Indicator). The BFI was never intended to be used for evaluating individual researchers and their productivity. Yet since its introduction in 2008 especially the social sciences and the humanities experience a pressure to deliver “BFI points” and academic job advertisements within the social sciences and the humanities increasingly mention expectations for people’s past and/or future production of BFI points.
The h-index is even more problematic because no one academic database covers all the research publications in the world. The whole thing is completely disorganized, and as many as five different h-indexes exist for each researcher. What makes the h-index even more useless is that it will not let you make comparisons across disciplines. Furthermore, like other simple measurements, it is liable to be manipulated and misinterpreted. On that background, it is remarkable that numbers extracted from incomplete databases are used for describing the quality of researchers and their institutions.


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Author Biographies

Charlotte Wien, University of Southern Denmark

Charlotte Wien is professor of Scholarly Communication at SDU/Denmark and Head of Research at the University Library of Southern Denmark and Professor2 at UiT The Arctic University of Norway. Her research focuses on researcher integrity and responsible use of scholarly metrics. She teaches scientific methods, philosophy of science and research integrity. Before she was a full professor of Communication and media science. Her current research team is a cross disciplinary unit covering both STEM and SSH. She is a board member of SPARC Europe and a very active member of LIBER (Ligue des Bibliotheques Europeennes de Recherche). Dr. Wien is a frequent contributor to mass media on all kinds of topics related to Scholarly Communication.

Bertil Fabricius Dorch, University of Southern Denmark

Bertil F. Dorch is Director of the Research and University Library at SDU and teaches responsible conduct of research. Dorch is affiliated to the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy at SDU as Associate Professor. Dorch’s professional interests include topics within stellar astrophysics and magnetism, scholarly communication, responsible conduct of research, strategical management, scholarly publishing, especially within the natural sciences. Dorch was three times elected President of the Danish Research Library Association during the period from 2014 to 2020.


Originally published in Weekend Avisen (in Danish, Toll Access) on February 14, 2020. English abstract freely available at: https://librarygazette.net/2020/02/17/an-unnecessary-evil

Daniella Bayle Deutz, Thea Marie Drachen, Dorte Drongstrup, Niels Opstrup og Charlotte Wien (2020) “Quantitative quality: A study on how performance-based measures may change the publication patterns of Danish researchers”, forthcoming




How to Cite

Wien, Charlotte, and Bertil Fabricius Dorch. 2020. “Unholy goals and flawed methods”. Nordic Perspectives on Open Science 5 (November). https://doi.org/10.7557/11.5659.