When research is published, what is its impact? How do we express the magnitude of its influence in terms of definite numbers? The science of bibliometrics is the answer to all such questions that arise as to how a researcher’s influence as well as the impact of research output can be quantified. The coining of the term “Bibliometrics” is credited to Pritchard (1969) who proposed the term to replace an earlier used ambiguous term “Statistical Bibliography.” He defined it as “The application of mathematical methods to books and other media of communication.” In simple words, it is a process of extracting measurable data through statistical analysis of published studies and how the knowledge within a publication is used. Over the period of time, various analogous terms such as Librametry, Scientometrics, and Infometrics have been put forth in the literature.
Bibliometrics is a field that employs quantitative means to assess the academic productivity of authors and the performance of journals and institutions. Bibliometric analysis has gained immense popularity in business research in recent years but its use in health sciences is in a relative state of infancy. There are distinct parameters for the evaluation of individual authors-Publication count, Citation Count, h-Index, m-Quotient, e-Index, g-Index, i-n Index, and measurement of academic strength of scientific journals-2-Year Impact Factor, 5-Year Impact Factor, Eigenfactor, Article Influence Score, SCImago journal rank, and Source-Normalized Impact Per Paper to name a few. These measures are tracked by Thomson Reuters, Web of Science, Google Scholar, and Scopus. Bibliometric parameters are playing an active role in the evaluation of academic productivity and readiness for promotion or grants. Pragmatically speaking, these indicators can help researchers in choosing the area of research and journals to submit their research work. Moreover, these indicators can be used to determine the geographic origin of research and detect the growth or erosion of countries’ scientific impact. Unfortunately, an overpowering gap exists in health research, with respect to funding priorities, it is estimated only 10% of funds are used for research on health problems which contribute to 90% of the disease burden around the world. A robust bibliometric analysis can identify research strengths, gaps in health research, and inform decisions about future health priorities. With the present impetus on evidence-based medicine, the bibliometric parameters can help assessing the quality of literature and thus along with clinical experience and patient values can aid in clinical decision-making.
Each of these parameters has its strengths and weaknesses from both theoretical as well as practical perspectives. Numbers alone can be illusional as they have an authoritative demeanor and metrics are thwarted with an overabundance of ambiguities, errors, and uncertainties so they must be vigilantly put into practice. Bibliometrics focus on quantitative rather than qualitative measures while it provides a point of reference for assessing the impact of the research it does not necessarily mean that the quality of the work is superlative. Evaluation of a researcher or groups of researchers by data alone overlooks other qualitative attributes that can only be measured using appropriate peer review. The two together–peer review and quantitative analysis of research–better inform evaluation and decisions. In a way, these indicators are imperfect and can be used for their specific purpose; and in some situations, more than one indicator might be required with proper expert judgments.
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