The blog of Valerio Olevano about Scientific Research

A reflection about plagues affecting scientific research

Is Bibliometry really a measure of "Scientific Excellence"?

H-index of preeminent physicists of the first half of the 20th century (source: ISI Web of Science).
* Marie Curie, born Maria Salomea Skłodowska, published also prior to 1900, a period which is not covered by the ISI WoS database, possibly also under her original name. Therefore her H-index might be underestimated. On the other hand, Einstein published his first paper in 1900 and Bohr in 1905.
Physicist (born-dead) N. of papers H-index in 2019 H-index at death
M. Curie* (1867-1934) 27 5 2
A. Einstein (1879-1955) 175 62 21
N. Bohr (1885-1962) 77 30 17
E. Schrödinger (1887-1961) 86 29 14
L. De Broglie (1892-1987) 121 17 12
W. Heisenberg (1901-1976) 119 42 35
E. Fermi (1901-1954) 78 41 24
P.A.M. Dirac (1902-1984) 77 46 38
R. Feynman (1918-1988) 75 39 33

H, an index of what?

Shortly after the appearance in 2005 of the Hirsch paper introducing the today unfortunately very well-known H-index, tables like the one shown above were presented everywhere, in order to illustrate how the H-index works and to provide everybody a reference of excellent models to target. But already in 2010 it was extremely difficult to find again any of such tables. All tables with the H-index of famous scientists were judiciously removed. The reason might be obscure to all externals to research who have not managed too much with the H-index. But it becomes utterly clear to all my colleagues who only will dare a glimpse to the above table.
The H-index of these incontestable preeminent physicists who provided major contributions to physics, is ridiculously small if compared to the H-index of today's many illustrious unknown researchers who are navigating well beyond H=100, e.g. 5 times the H-index of Einstein at his death. How to quickly build an H=100 index - In 2010 I was very impressed by the work of C. Labbé who proved how it is possible to fictitiously create, really from the nothing, a star of the scientific firmament whom he called Ike Antkare. He firstly managed to automatically write 100 publications signed by Ike Antkare, each one citing all the others, and then introduced one of them into the research engines counting citations and calculating bibliometry indices. In few weeks Ike Antkare achieved almost an H-index of 100. He then wrote an article (a real one) in which he explains "how Ike Antkare became one of the most highly cited scientists in the modern world and how you could become like him." This work explains how it was possible that, shortly after the introduction of the H-index in 2005, everybody keeping an eye on the H-index, if not working explicitly for it, could rapidly achieve H-indices outclassing even the most preeminent physicists of the history of science. And this explains also why the tables with the H-index of preeminent physicists were in the next years all removed from any comparison. They are really unconfortable comparisons. The today explosion of publications - The first striking point to be remarked is the number of articles published by these preeminent physicists all along their life: apart Albert Einstein, who was considered exceptionally productive, the rest of them published as an average 90~100 papers. But today there are researchers who publish 90 papers per year! Which means 1 paper every 4 days, including saturdays, sundays, holidays and vacation time. The whole of the Einstein's production (according to the ISI WoS) in only 2 years! Even without these "champions" of the publication, the number of papers published per year per researcher is much larger than the numbers referring to the times where the above quoted outstanding physicists lived. Today we assist to an exponential growth, if not a real explosion in the number of publications, practically in all fields.
Work in progress.

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