Cristiano Varin, Manuela Cattelan and David Firth (Warwick) have written a paper on the statistical analysis of citations and index factors, paper that is going to be Read at the Royal Statistical Society next May the 13th. And hence is completely open to contributed discussions. Now, I have written several entries on the ‘Og about the limited trust I set to citation indicators, as well as about the abuse made of those. However I do not think I will contribute to the discussion as my reservations are about the whole bibliometrics excesses and not about the methodology used in the paper.
The paper builds several models on the citation data provided by the “Web of Science” compiled by Thompson Reuters. The focus is on 47 Statistics journals, with a citation horizon of ten years, which is much more reasonable than the two years in the regular impact factor. A first feature of interest in the descriptive analysis of the data is that all journals have a majority of citations from and to journals outside statistics or at least outside the list. Which I find quite surprising. The authors also build a cluster based on the exchange of citations, resulting in rather predictable clusters, even though JCGS and Statistics and Computing escape the computational cluster to end up in theory and methods along Annals of Statistics and JRSS Series B.
In addition to the unsavoury impact factor, a ranking method discussed in the paper is the eigenfactor score that starts with a Markov exploration of articles by going at random to one of the papers in the reference list and so on. (Which shares drawbacks with the impact factor, e.g., in that it does not account for the good or bad reason the paper is cited.) Most methods produce the Big Four at the top, with Series B ranked #1, and Communications in Statistics A and B at the bottom, along with Journal of Applied Statistics. Again, rather anticlimactic.
The major modelling input is based on Stephen Stigler’s model, a generalised linear model on the log-odds of cross citations. The Big Four once again receive high scores, with Series B still much ahead. (The authors later question the bias due to the Read Paper effect, but cannot easily evaluate this impact. While some Read Papers like Spiegelhalter et al. 2002 DIC do generate enormous citation traffic, to the point of getting re-read!, other journals also contain discussion papers. And are free to include an on-line contributed discussion section if they wish.) Using an extra ranking lasso step does not change things.
In order to check the relevance of such rankings, the authors also look at the connection with the conclusions of the (UK) 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. They conclude that the normalised eigenfactor score and Stigler model are more correlated with the RAE ranking than the other indicators. Which means either that the scores are good predictors or that the RAE panel relied too heavily on bibliometrics! The more global conclusion is that clusters of journals or researchers have very close indicators, hence that ranking should be conducted with more caution that it is currently. And, more importantly, that reverting the indices from journals to researchers has no validation and little information.