7.5Humanities go scientometrics

By Wolfgang Glänzel, Pei-Shan Chi, and Koenraad Debackere (ECOOM, KU Leuven)


Publication and citation analysis have a strikingly long and, at the same time, a very short history. While citation indexing and citation analysis in legal literature have already been applied in the early 19th century (cf. Shapiro, 1992), the contemporary scientometrics has trouble dealing with law and the humanities, in general. The main reason is that scientometrics as it emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, was based on the culture and patterns of scholarly communication in the basic sciences, most notably on the literature in the life and physical sciences. Yet there are fundamental differences in communication patterns between research in the life and physical sciences and the humanities (and to a large extent in the social sciences as well), which manifest in both publication types and venues, and in the systematic way of how previous work and sources are incorporated and referred to. As a consequence, and by-effect, the existing bibliographic databases used for calculating the metrics proved insufficient for this purpose too. The ambitious attempts of bibliometricians to extend their quantitative methods and tools to the humanities from the 1990s on were, therefore, met with scepticism on the part of researchers in the humanities and did, hardly surprisingly, not go down particularly well. Nevertheless, the necessity of extending the assessment of research in the social sciences and humanities towards the inclusion of quantitative tools and “metrics” was recognised by the respective research communities too. Ochsner, Hug and Daniel have edited a profound compendium of the state-of-the-art of characteristics, requirements, and practices of research assessment in the social sciences and humanities (SSH) in 2016. The development of quantitative tools and “metrics” also benefits from two emergent insights. One relates to the possibilities that come with new analytical tools and rich, augmented datasets as recently highlighted by Kousha and Thelwall (2023). The other relates to the emergent insight that SSH are omnipresent but at the same time rather invisible (as demonstrated by Callaert et al., 2011) since their impact builds and evolves gradually over longer periods of time as documented by Berman and Fox (2023). This evolution is part of a complex process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis required to enact the broader communal and societal acceptance of SSH insights. In what follows, we will sketch the approach to the application of scientometrics to research evaluation in the SSH from two perspectives, the scientometrics community and the research communities in the humanities using the examples of law and philosophy.

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