Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Will Asia start rising again?

Times Higher Education (THE) has long suffered from the curse of field-normalised citations which without fail produce interesting (in the Chinese curse sense) results every year.

Part of THE's citation problem is the kilo-paper issue, papers mainly in particle physics with hundreds or thousands of authors and hundreds or thousands of citations. The best known case is 'Combined Measurement of the Higgs Boson Mass in pp Collisions    ...   ' in Physical Review Letters which has 5,154 contributors.

If every contributor to such papers is given equal credit for such citations then his or her institution would be awarded thousands of citations. Combined with other attributes of this indicator this means that a succession of improbable places, such as Tokyo Metropolitan University and Middle East Technical University,  have soared to the research impact peaks in the THE world rankings.

THE have already tried a couple of variations to counting citations for this sort of paper. In 2015 they introduced a cap, simply not counting any paper with more than a thousand authors. Then in 2016 they decided to give a minimum credit of 5% of citations to such authors.

That meant that in the 2014 THE world rankings an institution with one contributor to a paper with 2,000 authors and 2,000 citations would be counted as being cited 2,000 times, in 2015 not at all and in 2016 100 times. The result was that many universities in Japan, Korea, France and Turkey suffered catastrophic falls in 2015 and then made a modest comeback in 2016.

But there may be more to come. A paper by Louis de Mesnard in the European Journal of Operational Research  proposes a new formula -- (n+2)/3n -- so that if a paper has two authors each one gets two thirds of the credit. If it has 2,000 authors each one is assigned 334 citations.

Mesnard's paper has been given star billing in an article in THE which suggests that the magazine is thinking about using his formula in the next world rankings.

If so, we can expect headlines about the extraordinary recovery of Asian universities in contrast to the woes of the UK and the USA suffering from the ravages of Brexit and Trump-induced depression. 

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