[Coral-List] A student's guide to the h-index

Risk, Michael riskmj at mcmaster.ca
Wed Dec 30 18:11:36 UTC 2020

   I am not sure that anything is broken here that needs fixing. Or
   rather-there are lots of things broken, but the h-index may not make
   the top 5.

   I spent many years BH (Before Hirsch) on our Tenure and Promotion
   Committee, and found it...illuminating. It is extraordinarily difficult
   to evaluate candidates from other fields, and none of us wants simply
   to count papers. Absent some count or measure of impact, one is left
   with advice from the" experts"-with all the mess that entails. A
   sustained record of writing stuff that others cite is a better measure
   than # papers, and h-scores are better than citation #'s.

   We are only human, and we seek out ways to simplify our lives.

   Hirsh's complaints boil down to "people can misuse it." Well, duh.
   There are few things in life that people CANNOT misuse.

   I see two other trends that imho are more threatening to our concepts
   of scholarship:

    1. universities, many of them, are not now run by scholars, but by
       "managers." Remember back in high school when your main interests
       (mine, anyway) were getting loaded and getting laid, and there were
       people running for Student Council? Well, those people now run the
       world, because they understand systems and how to manipulate them.
       These are the people who will embrace the h-score with cries of
       glee, because it will allow them to make "objective" decisions
       while knowing SFA about the field.
    2. Authorships. I recently reviewed a MS that reported results of some
       field surveys of reefs. Amounted to a decent term paper, I thought.
       It had 15 authors. A recent (very neat) study of skeletal chemistry
       had, I think, 18 authors. I understand the pressure to fatten up
       those CV's, but in the long run, it dilutes scholarship.

   In short, yes, there are a lot of problems. I have solutions-mandatory
   financial disclosure, tighter professional standards-but despair of

   From: Coral-List <coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> on behalf of
   David Blakeway via Coral-List <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
   Sent: Wednesday, December 30, 2020 4:25 AM
   To: coral list <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
   Subject: [Coral-List] A student's guide to the h-index

   I am directing this discussion of the h-index primarily at students
   contemplating an academic research career. By the time you start
   research I
   hope the h-index will be less influential than it is now, but I'm not
   holding my breath. If you're unsure what the h-index is, see:
   The original 2005 paper introducing the h-index is here:
    If you haven't read it, I recommend reading it now so you can form an
   objective opinion.
   Ok, what did you think?
   I think this paper demonstrates the pitfalls of applying math to mind.
   The first casualties are the concepts of productivity and significance.
   English dictionary definitions of these terms require integration of
   multiple concepts, each ramifying through further layers of sub
   In h-world, such technicalities are superfluous; productivity = number
   papers (*Np*) and a significant paper = a paper with >*y* citations.
   The *reductio *is extended to define three categories of scientist,
   on the rate *m* at which their h-index increases over time: *m* = 1:
   successful scientist, *m* = 2: outstanding scientist, *m* = 3: truly
   scientist. For me, this train has left the rails already, but there's
   specific h-values are suggested for advancement to associate professor,
   full professor, fellowship in the American Physical Society, and
   of the National Academy of Sciences.
   The author, Jorge Hirsch, lists several caveats that should be kept in
   when interpreting the h-index, but these nuances don't register. The
   is published, it catches like fire, and pretty soon hundreds of
   of scientists are heading for true uniqueness.
   University administrators and committees love the new index because it
   finally brings some much-needed objectivity to their decisions on
   promotion, and grant distribution. This is helpful because, as
   are now businesses, decision-makers are poorly-equipped to evaluate the
   quality of scientists and their research proposals (but remain fully
   capable of ranking a sequence of two-digit integers from worst to
   Is this really such a big problem? I think it is. More importantly,
   Hirsch thinks it is:
   What can we do about it?
   An engineer colleague of mine has a maxim within his team: don't bring
   me a
   problem unless you have at least two potential solutions.
   I have two potential solutions. I don't know if they will make a
   difference. Let me know if you want to hear them.
   Coral-List mailing list
   Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov


   1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H-index
   2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1283832/
   3. https://www.natureindex.com/news-blog/whats-wrong-with-the-h-index-according-to-its-inventor
   4. https://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list

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