Sunday, July 31, 2011

Latest Webometrics Rankings

Webometrics have just released their latest rankings. These are based on the web-related activities of universities as measured by:
  • the number of pages recovered from four engines: Google, Yahoo, Live Search and Exalead
  • the total number of unique external links received (inlinks)
  • rich files in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf), Adobe PostScript (.ps), Microsoft Word (.doc) and Microsoft Powerpoint (.ppt).
  • data were extracted using Google results from the Scholar database representing papers, reports and other academic items
The Webometrics ranking might be considered a crude instrument but nonetheless it does measure something that, while not synonymous with quality, is still a necessary precondition.

Here are the top three in each region:

USA and Canada
1. MIT
2. Harvard
3. Stanford

Latin America
1.  Sao Paulo
2.  National Autonmous University of Mexico
3.  Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

1.  Cambridge
2.  Oxford
3.  Southampton

Central and Eastern Europe
1.  Charles University in Prague
2.  Masaryk University in Brno
3.  Ljubljana, Slovenia

1.  National Taiwan University
2.  Tokyo
3.  Kyoto

South East Asia
1.  National University of Singapore
2.  Kasetsart, Thailand
3.  Chulalongkorn, Thailand

South Asia
1.  IIT Bombay
2.  IIS Bangalore
3.  IIT Kanpur

Arab World
1.  King Saud University
2.  King Fahd University of Petroleum and minerals
3.  Kng Abdul Aziz University

1.  Australian National University
2.   Melbourne
3.  Queensland

1.  Cape Town
2.  Pretoria
3.  Stellenbosch

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rankings as Imperialism

A conference was held in Malaysia recently, ostensibly to "challenge Western stereotypes of knowledge."

There was a comment on international university rankings by James Campbell of Universiti Sains Malaysia.

"Others warn of the threats of new colonialism practices such as rankings exercises.

“This is another form of imperialism as universities have to conform with publishing in ISI (Institute for Scientific Information) journals in order to be ranked among the best in the world,” says Campbell."

There are many things wrong with rankings but this is not a valid criticism. The Shanghai rankings have shown the steady advance of Chinese and Korean and to a lesser extent Latin American and Southwest Asian universities. The QS rankings (formerly THE -QS) were notoriously biased towards Southeast  Asia with a heavy weighting being given to a survey originally based largely on the mailing lists of a Singapore based publishing company (that may no longer be the case) .

As for the the current THE - Thomson Reuters rankings, they have declared an Egyptian university to be the fourth best in the world for research impact.

The inadequacies of current rankings have been discussed here and elsewhere. But whether it is helpful to anyone to reject them altogether is very debatable.

Most of the conference was devoted not to rankings per se. but to supposed critiques of western science. Readers may judge these for themselves.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pseudo-science in the academy

A comment by Ameen Amjad Khan in University World News draws attention to the continuing problem of pseudo-science in universities. He lists creationism. anti-evolutionism, magnetic healing, perpetual motion, quantum mysticisms, New Age physics, parapsychology, repressed memory, homeopathy and fake self-help schemes.

To which we could add some products of pseudo-social science such as multiple intelligences, emotional and spiritual quotient, Outcomes Based Education and just about anything related to management studies.
Off topic a bit
The Independent has an article by Alex Duval Smith, "the man who proved that everyone is good at maths"

It describes a French academician, Marc Chemillier, who has written a book , "Les Mathematiques Naturelles" that claims that maths is simple and rooted in human sensory intuition. He has travelled to Madagascar because "he believes that Madagascar's population, which remains relatively untouched by outside influences, can help him to prove this".

Smith quotes Chemillier as saying: "There is a strong link between counting and the number of fingers on our hands. Maths becomes complicated only when you abandon basic measures in nature, like the foot or the inch, or even the acre, which is the area that two bulls can plough in a day."

Ploughing a field with bulls is natural? Isn't that a little ethnocentric and chronocentric?

Smith goes on:

"To make his point, Mr Chemillier chose to charge up his laptop computer, leave Paris and do the rounds of fortune tellers on the Indian Ocean island [Madagascar] because its uninfluenced natural biodiversity also extends to its human population. Divinatory geomancy – reading random patterns, or sikidy to use the local word – is what Raoke does, when not smoking cigarettes rolled with paper from a school exercise book."

The idea that the population of Madagascar is untouched, even relatively,  by outside influences is rather odd. The ancestors of the Malagasy travelled across the Indian Ocean from Borneo, a voyage more arduous than those of Columbus. Since then, the island has received immigrants and ideas from and traded with East Africa, Arabia, Persia, India and Europe. Sikidy itself is a local adoption of the medieval Muslim art of divination, adapted to local conditions.

It is difficult to see how Raoke's abilty to recall complex patterns created by removing seeds in ones or twos from piles proves that everybody is good at maths. He has probably been divining for half a century and it is a safe bet that he has put in the ten thousand hours that Malcolm Gladwell thinks is necessary to turn anyone into a genius.

I suspect, however, that we are going to hear  more about the diviners of Madagascar as universities and schools throughout the world are relentlessly dumbed down. No need to study the needless complexities of calculus: a pile of seeds and illiterate intuition is all you need.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What do you do if you hold a quality initiative and nobody comes?

The Higher Education Commission of  Pakistan is proposing to rank all private and public universities in the country. Unfortunately, the universities do not seem very keen on the idea and most of them are not submitting data.

"An official of HEC told APP that all public and private Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) were asked to submit their data by July 15 for carrying out ranking process but around 10 out of 132 universities have submitted their data. HEC is taking the initiative of ranking the universities to help strengthen their indigenous quality culture and improve international visibility. The HEC has already directed the universities to meet the deadline for providing authentic data and those which failed to provide data will be ranked zero by placing them at the bottom in the ranking list to be published through print media.

HEC’ initiative to carry out quality based ranking of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) is aimed at international compatibility, primarily based on the QS Ranking System acceptable widely across countries. The commission has taken various initiatives to bring HEIs of Pakistan at par with international standards and ranking is one of the measures to scale the success of efforts to achieve international competitiveness in education, research and innovation."

The problem of conscientious objectors and of universities that might simply not be able to collect data is one that has plagued global and national rankers from the beginning. Times Higher and Thomson Reuters allow universities to opt out but that is risky if those opting out include the likes of Texas at Austin. On the other hand, QS will collect data from third party and national sources if universities fail to cooperate.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What Global Rankings Ignore
(at least some of them)

Inside Higher Ed has an article by Indira Samarasekera, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta, that voices some fairly conventional complaints about international university rankings. She has some praise for two of the rankers:

"The problems with national and international rankings are numerous and well known. So well known, in fact, that the world’s most powerful ranking organizations — the World’s Best Universities Rankings conducted by U.S. News & World Report in partnership with Quacquarelli Symonds and the Times Higher Education Rankings — have been working diligently to revise ranking measures and their methods in an attempt to increase the accuracy and objectivity of the rankings.

It should be pointed out that U.S. News & World report does not conduct any world rankings: it just publishes those prepared by QS. And I wonder how successful those diligent attempts will be.

She goes on:

"From my perspective, rankings are also missing the mark by failing to shine a light on some of the most significant benefits that universities bring to local, national and global societies. The focus of most rankings is on academic research outputs — publications, citations and major awards — that stand in as proxies for research quality and reach. While these outputs do a fairly good job of pinpointing the impact of a university’s contributions to knowledge, especially in science, technology, engineering and health sciences, they provide little indication of what kind of impact these advancements have on factors that the global community generally agrees are markers of prosperous and secure societies with a high quality of life.

Let me give you an example of what I mean: governments and policy makers everywhere now consider universities as economic engines as well as educational institutions. Public investments in research are increasingly directed toward research with the potential to translate into products, processes and policies — even whole new industries. This trend in research funding reveals a lot about the ways in which universities matter to governments, policy makers, regions and the public today, but the rankers aren’t paying attention.

Consider Israel. According to data on NASDAQ’s website, Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange than any other country in the world except the U.S., and major companies such as Intel, Microsoft, IBM and Google have major research and development centers in Israel. Why? If you look at the data, you see a correlation between this entrepreneurial activity and the investments in and outputs from Israel’s universities.

Israel is among a handful of nations with the highest public expenditure on educational institutions relative to GDP, and it has the highest rate of R&D investment relative to GDP in the world. It also has the highest percentage of engineers in the work force and among the highest ratio of university degrees per capita. Many of the companies listed on NASDAQ were started by graduates of Israel’s universities: Technion, Tel Aviv University, Weizmann Institute and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to mention a few. Do international university rankings capture these economic impacts from research and postsecondary education in Israel? The answer is no. In spite of their tremendous impact and output, Israel’s universities are ranked somewhere in the 100 to 200 range."

In fact, the Shanghai rankings had the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 72nd position in 2010 and the percentage of Israeli universities in the Shanghai 500 was higher than any other country. So, the vice-chancellor's logic leads to the conclusion that Shanghai does at a better job at capturing this aspect of excellence than QS or THE.

Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem were not in the THE 200 or indeed the THE top 400. What happened is that Thomson Reuters either did not receive or did not ask for the information.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

This WUR had such promise

The new Times Higher Education World University Rankings of 2010 promised much, new indicators based on income, a reformed survey that included questions on postgraduate teaching, a reduction in the weighting given to international students.

But the actual rankings that came out in September were less than impressive.  Dividing the year's intake of undergraduate students by the total of academic faculty looked rather odd. Counting the ratio of doctoral students to undergraduates, while omitting masters programs, was an invitation to the herding of marginal students into substandard doctoral degree programmes.

The biggest problem though was the insistence on giving a high weighting – somewhat higher than originally proposed -- to citations. Nearly a third of the total weighting was assigned to the average citations per paper normalized by field and year. The collection of statistics about citations is the bread and butter of Thomson Reuters (TR), THE’s  data collector, and one of their key products is the Incites system, which apparently was the basis for their procedure during the 2010 ranking exercise. This compares the citation records of academics with international scores benchmarked by year and field. Of course, those who want to find out exactly where they stand have to find out what the benchmark scores are and that is something that cannot be easily calculated without Thomson Reuters.

Over the last two or three decades the number of citations received by papers, along with the amount of money attracted from funding agencies, has become an essential sign of scholarly merit. Things have now reached the point where, in many universities, research is simply invisible unless it has been funded by an external agency and then published in a journal noted for being cited frequently by writers who contribute to journals that are frequently cited. The boom in citations has begun to resemble classical share and housing bubbles as citations acquire an inflated value increasingly detached from any objective reality.

It has become clear that citations can be manipulated as much as, perhaps more than, any other indicator used by international rankings. Writers can cite themselves, they can cite co-authors, they can cite those who cite them. Journal editors and reviewers can  make suggestions to submitters about who to cite. And so on.

Nobody, however, realized quite how unrobust citations might become until the unplanned intersection of THE’s indicator and a bit of self citation and mutual citation by two peripheral scientific figures raised questions about the whole business.

One of these two was Mohamed El Naschie who comes from a wealthy Egyptian family. He studied in Germany and took a Ph D in engineering at University College London. Then he taught in Saudi Arabia while writing several papers that appear to have been of an acceptable academic standard although not very remarkable. 

But this was not enough. In 1993 he started a new journal dealing with applied mathematics and theoretical physics called Chaos, Solitons and Fractals (CSF), published by the leading academic publishers, Elsevier. El Naschie’s journal published many papers written by himself. He has, to his credit, avoided exploiting junior researchers or insinuating himself into research projects to which he has contributed little. Most of his papers do not appear to be research but rather theoretical speculations many of which concern the disparity between the mathematics that describes the universe and that which describes subatomic space and suggestions for reconciling the two.

Over the years El Naschie has listed a number of universities as affiliations. The University of Alexandra was among the most recent of them. It was not clear, however, what he did at or for the university and it was only recently, after the publication of the 2010 THE World University Rankings, that there is documentation of any official connection.

El Naschie does not appear to be highly regarded by physicists and mathematicians, as noted earlier in this blog,  and he has been criticized severely in the physics and mathematics blogosphere.  He has, it is true, received some very vocal support but he is not really helped by the extreme enthusiasm and uniformity of style of his admirers. Here is a fairly typical example, from the comments in Times Higher Education: 
“As for Mohamed El Naschie, he is one of the most original thinkers of our time. He mastered science, philosophy, literature and art like very few people. Although he is an engineer, he is self taught in almost everything, including politics. Now I can understand that a man with his charisma and vast knowledge must be the object of envy but what is written here goes beyond that. My comment here will be only about what I found out regarding a major breakthrough in quantum mechanics. This breakthrough was brought about by the work of Prof. Dr. Mohamed El Naschie”
Later, a professor at Donghua University, China, Ji-Huan He, an editor at El Naschie’s  journal, started a similar publication, the International Journal of Nonlinear Sciences and Numerical Simulation (IJNSNS), whose editorial board included El Naschie. This journal was published by the respectable and unpretentious Israeli company, Freund of Tel Aviv. Ji-Huan He’s journal has published 29 of his own papers and 19 by El Naschie. The  two journals have contained articles that cite and are cited by articles in the other. Since they deal with similar topics some degree of cross citation is to be expected but here it seems to be unusually large.

Let us look at how El Naschie worked. An example is his paper, ‘The theory of Cantorian spacetime and high energy particle physics (an informal review)’, published in Chaos, Solitons and Fractals,41/5, 2635-2646, in  September  2009.

There are 58 citations in the bibliography. El Naschie cites himself 24 times, 20 times to papers in Chaos, Solitons and Fractals and 4 in IJNSNS.  Ji-Huan He is cited twice along with four  other authors from CSF. This paper has been cited 11 times, ten times in CSF in issues of the journal published later in the year.

Articles in mathematics and theoretical physics do not get cited very much. Scholars in those fields prefer to spend time thinking about an interesting paper before settling down to comment. Hardly any papers get even a single citation in the same year. Here we have 10 for one paper. That might easily be 100 times the average for that discipline and that year.

The object of this exercise had nothing to do with the THE rankings. What it did do was to push El Naschie’s  journal into the top ranks of scientific journals as measured by the Journal Impact Factor, that is the number of citations per paper within a two year period. It also meant that for a brief period El Naschie was listed by Thomson Reuters’ Science Watch as a rising star of research.

Eventually, Elsevier appointed a new editorial board at CSF that did not include El Naschie. The journal did however continue to refer to him as the founding editor. Since then the number of citations has declined sharply.

Meanwhile, Ji-huan  He was also accumulating a large number of citations, many of them from conference proceedings that he had organized. He was launched into the exalted ranks of the ISI Highly Cited Researchers and his journal topped the citation charts in mathematics. Unfortunately, early this year Freund sold off its journals to the reputed German publishers De Gruyter, who appointed a new editorial board that did not include either him or El Naschie.

El Naschie, He and a few others have been closely scrutinized by Jason Rush, a mathematician formerly of the University of Washington. Rush was apparently infuriated by El Naschie s unsubstantiated claims to have held senior positions at a variety of universities including Cambridge, Frankfurt, Surrey and Cornell. Since 2009 he has closely, perhaps a little obsessively, published a blog that chronicles the activities of El Naschie and those associated with him. Most of what is known about El Naschie and He was unearthed by his blog, El Naschie Watch.

Meanwhile, Thomson Reuters were preparing their analysis of citations for the THE rankings. They used the Incites system and compared the number of citations with benchmark scores representing the average for year and field.
This meant that for this criterion a high score did not necessarily represent a large number of citations. It could simply represent more citations than normal in a short period of time in fields where citation was infrequent and, perhaps more significantly since we are talking about averages here, a small total number of publications. Thus, Alexandria, with only a few publications but listed as the affiliation of an author who was cited much more frequently than usual in theoretical physics or applied mathematics, did spectacularly well.

This is rather like declaring Norfolk (very flat according to Oscar Wilde) the most mountainous county in England because of a few hillocks that were nonetheless relatively much higher than the surrounding plains.

Thomson Reuters would have done themselves a lot of good if they had taken the sensible course of using several indicators of research impact, such as total citations, citations per faculty, the h-index or references in social media or if they had allocated a smaller weighting to the indicator or if they had imposed a reasonable  threshold number of publications instead of just 50 or if they had not counted self-citations, or citations within journals or if they had figured out a formula to detect mutual citations..

So, in September  THE published its rankings with University of Alexandria in the top 200 overall and in fourth place for research impact, ahead of Oxford, Cambridge and most of the Ivy league. Not bad for a university that had not even been counted by HEEACT, QS or the Shanghai rankings and that in 2010 had lagged behind two other institutions in Alexandria itself in Webometrics.

When the rankings were published THE pointed out that Alexandria had once had a famous library and that a former student had gone on to the USA to eventually win a Nobel prize decades later. Still, they did concede that the success of Alexandria was mainly due  to one "controversial" author.

Anyone with access to the Web of Science could determine in a minute precisely who the controversial author was. For a while it was unclear exactly how a few dozen papers and a few hundred citations could put Alexandria among the world’s elite. Some observers wasted time wondering if  Thomson Reuters had been counting papers from a community college in Virginia or Minnesota, a branch of the Louisiana State University or federal government offices in the Greater Washington area. Eventually, it was clear that El Naschie could not, as he himself asserted, have done it by himself: he needed the help of the very distinctive features of Thomson Reuters’ methodology.

There were  other oddities in the 2010 rankings. Some might have accepted a high placing for Bilkent University in Turkey. It was well known for its Academic English programs. It also had one much cited article whose apparent impact was increased because it was classified as multidisciplinary, usually a low cited category, thereby scoring well above the world benchmark. However, when regional patterns were analyzed, the rankings began to look rather strange, especially the research impact indicator. In Australia, the Middle East, Hong Kong and Taiwan the order of universities, looked rather different from what local experts expected. Hong Kong Baptist University the third best in the SAR? Pohang University of Science and Technology so much better than Yonsei or KAIST? Adelaide the fourth best Australian university?

In the UK or the US these placings might seem plausible or at least not worth bothering about. But in the Middle East the idea of Alexandria as top university even in Egypt is a joke and the places awarded to the others look very dubious.

THE and Thomson Reuters tried to shrug off the complaints by saying that there were just a few outliers which they were prepared to debate and that anyone who criticized them had a vested interest in the old THE-QS rankings which had been discredited. They  dropped hints that the citations indicator would be reviewed but so far nothing specific has emerged.

A few days ago, however,  Phil Baty of THE seemed to imply that there was nothing wrong with the citations indicator.
Normalised data allow fairer comparisons, and that is why Times Higher Education will employ it for more indicators in its 2011-12 rankings, says Phil Baty.
One of the most important features of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings is that all our research citations data are normalised to take account of the dramatic variations in citation habits between different academic fields.
Treating citations data in an “absolute manner”, as some university rankings do, was condemned earlier this year as a “mortal sin” by one of the world’s leading experts in bibliometrics, Anthony van Raan of the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University. In its rankings, Times Higher Education gives most weight to the “research influence” indicator – for our 2010-11 exercise, this drew on 25 million citations from 5 million articles published over five years. The importance of normalising these data has been highlighted by our rankings data supplier, Thomson Reuters: in the field of molecular biology and genetics, there were more than 1.6 million citations for the 145,939 papers published between 2005 and 2009; in mathematics, however, there were just 211,268 citations for a similar number of papers (140,219) published in the same period.
To ignore this would be to give a large and unfair advantage to institutions that happen to have more provision in molecular biology, say, than in maths. It is for this crucial reason that Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings examine a university’s citations in each field against the global average for that subject.

Yes, but when we are assessing hundreds of universities in very narrowly defined fields we start running into quite small samples that can be affected by deliberate manipulation or by random fluctuations.

Another point is that if there are many more journals, papers, citations and grants in oncology or genetic engineering than in the spatialization of gender performativity or the influence of Semitic syntax on Old Irish then perhaps society is telling us something about what it values and that is something that should not be dismissed so easily.

So, it could be  we are going to get the University of Alexandria in the top 200 again, perhaps joined by Donghua university.

At the risk of being repetitive, there are a few simple  things that Times Higher  and TR could do to make the citations indicator more credible. There are also  more ways of measuring research excellence.Possibly they are thinking about them but so far there is no sign  of this.

The credibility of last year's rankings has  declined further with the decisions of the judge presiding over the libel case brought by El Naschie against Nature (see here for commentary). Until now it could be claimed that El Naschie was a wll known scientist by virtue of the large numbers of citations that he had received or at least an interesting and controversial maverick.

El  Naschie is pursuing a case against  Nature for publishing an article that suggested his writings were not of a high quality and that those published in his journal did not appear to be properly peer reviewed

The judge has recently ruled  ruled that  El Naachie cannot proceed with a claim for specific damages since he has not brought any evidence for this. He can only go ahead with a claim for general damages for loss of reputation and hurt feelings. Even here, it looks like it will be tough going. El Naschie seems to be unwilling or unable to find expert witnesses to testify to the scientific merits of his papers.

"The Claimant is somewhat dismissive of the relevance of expert evidence in this case, largely on the basis that his field of special scientific knowledge is so narrow and fluid that it is difficult for him to conceive of anyone qualifying as having sufficient "expert" knowledge of the field. Nevertheless, permission has been obtained to introduce such evidence and it is not right that the Defendants should be hindered in their preparations."

He also seems to have problems with locating records that would demonstrate that his many articles published in Chaos, Solitons and Fractals were adequately reviewed.
  1. The first subject concerns the issue of peer-review of those papers authored by the Claimant and published in CSF. It appears that there were 58 articles published in 2008. The Claimant should identify the referees for each article because their qualifications, and the regularity with which they reviewed such articles, are issues upon which the Defendants' experts will need to comment. Furthermore, it will be necessary for the Defendants' counsel to cross-examine such reviewers as are being called by the Claimant as to why alleged faults or defects in those articles survived the relevant reviews.

  2. Secondly, further information is sought as to the place or places where CSF was administered between 2006 and 2008. This is relevant, first, to the issue of whether the Claimant has complied with his disclosure obligations. The Defendants' advisers are not in a position to judge whether a proportionate search has been carried out unless they are properly informed as to how many addresses and/or locations were involved. Secondly, the Defendants' proposed expert witnesses will need to know exactly how the CSF journal was run. This information should be provided.
It would therefore  seem to be getting more and more difficult for anyone to argue that TR's methodology has uncovered a pocket of excellence in Alexandria.

Unfortunately, it is beginning to look as though THE will not only use much the same method as last time but will apply normalisation to other indicators as well.
But what about the other performance indicators used to compare institutions? Our rankings examine the amount of research income a university attracts and the number of PhDs it awards. For 2011-12, they will also look at the number of papers a university has published that are co-authored by an international colleague.
Don’t subject factors come into play here, too? Shouldn’t these also be normalised? We think so. So I am pleased to confirm that for the 2011-12 World University Rankings, Times Higher Education will introduce subject normalisation to a range of other ranking indicators.
This is proving very challenging. It makes huge additional demands on the data analysts at Thomson Reuters and, of course, on the institutions themselves, which have had to provide more and richer data for the rankings project. But we are committed to constantly improving and refining our methodology, and these latest steps to normalise more indicators evidence our desire to provide the most comprehensive and rigorous tables we can.
What this might mean is that universities that spend modest amounts of money in fields where little money is usually spent would get a huge score. So what would happen if an eccentric millionaire left millions to establish a lavishly funded research chair in continental philosophy at Middlesex University?  There are no doubt precautions that Thomson Reuters could take but will they? The El Naschie business does not inspire very much confidence that they will.

The reception of the 2010 THE WUR rankings suggests that the many in the academic world have doubts about the wisdom of using normalised citation data without considering the potential for gaming or statistical anomalies. But the problem may run deeper and involve citations as such. QS, THE 's rival and former partner, have produced a series of subject rankings based on data from 2010. The overall results for each subject are based on varying combinations of the scores for academic opinion, employer opinion and citations per paper (not per faculty as in the general rankings).

The results are interesting. Looking at citations per paper alone we see that Boston College and Munich are jointly first in Sociology. Rutgers is third for politics and international studies. MIT is third for philosophy (presumably Chomsky and co). Stellenbosch is first for Geography and Area studies. Padua is first for linguistics. Tokyo Metropolitan University is second for biological sciences and Arizona State University first.

Pockets of excellence or statistical anomalies? These results may not be quite as incredible as Alexandria in the THE rankings but they are not a very good advertisement for the validity of citations as a measure of research excellence.

It appears that THE have not made their minds up yet. There is still time to produce a believable and rigorous ranking system. But whatever happens, it is unlikely that citations,  normalized or unnormalized, will continue to be the unquestionable gold standard of academic and scientific research.

    Sunday, July 10, 2011

    The Coming Ascendancy of China

    Matthew Reisz in Times Higher Education reports that Wen Jiabao, Prime Minister of China, has been awarded the King Charles II medal by the Royal Society for an ambitious national research program.

    "The scale and success of Chinese investment in research was reflected in findings released last month by Thomson Reuters - drawing on data collected for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings - which showed that the country's elite C9 League now generates more income per academic staff member than the UK's Russell Group.

    The top Chinese universities also award the highest number of doctoral degrees per academic.
    Despite a vast increase in output over the past decade, there has been no discernible dip in standards, and the quality of the research produced by Chinese universities has remained at about the world average."

    Some warnings are necessary. It is debatable whether the generation of research income is always a good indicator of quality. For one thing, note that the report talks about "per academic staff". Getting rid of or forgetting about "unproductive" departments like philosophy or languages could boost scores as easily as getting grants.

    Still, it seems likely that the Chinese are on the way to scientific supremacy, at least in the natural sciences. There are obstacles ahead such as centralised control that might one day slow down the growth of research. They might even  read  Times Higher and stop being so unpleasantly aggressive and competitive, but at the moment that seems unlikely.

    Incidentally, do the data collected for the THE World University Rankings tell us anything that we couldn't learn from the Shanghai rankings?

    Tuesday, July 05, 2011

    QS Subject Rankings for the Social Sciences

    QS have released their subject rankings for the social sciences based on data gathered during last year's rankings.

    The overall rankings are not surprising. Here are top three in each subject.

    1.  Harvard
    2.  UC Berkeley
    3.  Oxford

    Statistics and Operational Research
    1.  Stanford
    2.  Harvard
    3.  UC Berkeley

    Politics and International Studies
    1.  Harvard
    2.  Oxford
    3.  Cambridge

    1.  Harvard
    2.  Oxford
    3.  Cambridge

    Economics and Econometrics
    1.  Harvard
    2.  MIT
    3. Stanford

    Accounting and Finance
    1.  Harvard
    2.  Oxford
    3.  MIT

    The top three in the citations per paper indicator is, in most cases, rather different. Are these pockets of excellence or something else?

    1=  Boston College
    1=  Munich
    3.   Florida State University

    Statistics and Operational Research
    1.  Aarhus
    2.  Helsinki
    3.  Erasmus University Rotterdam

    Politics and International Studies
    1.  Yale
    2.  Oslo
    3.  Rutgers

    1.  Victoria University of Wellington
    2.  Koln
    3.  Munster

    Economics and Econometrics
    1.  Dartmouth
    2.  Harvard
    3.  Princeton

    Accounting and Finance
    1.  University of Pennsylvania
    2=  Harvard
    2=  North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Friday, July 01, 2011

    Worth Reading

    Andrejs Rauhvargers,  Global University Rankings and their Impact (European University Association).
    Interesting News

    U.S. News are getting ready to start ranking American online colleges.
    The THE Survey

    Times Higher Education and its partner Thomson Reuters have announced the completion of their survey of academic opinion. There were 17,554 responses from 137 countries, nearly a third more than last year. That means nearly 31,000 responses over the last two years but THE, in contrast to their rivals, QS, will only count responses to this year's survey.

    QS have still not closed their survey so it looks as though they might well be push the number of responses to their survey over 17,500 and claim victory. THE, no doubt, will point out that all of their respondents are new ones and that QS are counting respondents from 2010 and 2009.

    THE have indicated the number of responses but not the number of survey forms that were sent out. So, the response rate for the survey is still unknown. This is more important for judging the validity of the survey than just the number of responses.