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Rubrik: Frontpage

We need to set a signal

Published: 22.11.2006 06:00
Modified: 22.11.2006 14:14

Von Peter Chen, D-CHAB

It is not surprising that a clever practitioner can design a process which will artificially inflate citation and impact factors. Take as a case study Google, the popular search engine. The ranking of a website is based on the number of links and the frequency of hits. In the last two years, as the commercial significance of the ranking has increased, there are documented instances in which a ranking is intentionally raised by chains of effectively self-referential Weblogs. The Guardian published, end of last year, a very funny article in which they showed that it was possible to push a bogus website to the top of the Google rankings artificially using tactics amazingly similar to the suggestions made by Prof. Schwarzenbach. (http://technology.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,16559,1671763,00.html) There are even commercial enterprises specializing in "Search Engine Optimization." If the numerical indicator is made the metric for important decisions, such as the price of ad space, why should we be surprised that someone clever finds a way to "fix" the system? Should we be surprised that academics, whom we would hope are also clever practitioners of their art, can design a similar subterfuge? The contribution from Prof. Schwarzenbach paints a dark picture. Not only is it realistic that at least a large portion of the academic community will respond to a skewed incentive structure by implementing the "suggestions" in the article, but there is good evidence that it has already started. We need to set a signal that we believe that it need not go in this direction!

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