Citation one, citation two, that’ll make a Hirsch index. What’s wrong with our research articles
For decades, the domestic academic community has been trying to rapidly increase its scientometric indicators, primarily the citation rate of articles. However, we have not been able to achieve any tangible success although the number of publications in journals indexed by the leading scientific Internet search platforms Scopus and Web of Science has doubled in ten years. In 2009, the country issued 65,000 articles to the world; in 2019, it is almost 137,000.
The U.S. Science Foundation now ranks Russia seventh in terms of publication activity. Nevertheless, the citation index (Field-Weighted Citation Impact, FWCI) corresponds to 38th place in the world. The result is worse than that of Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Brazil and Turkey.
Andrei Mikhailov, an expert of one of the world’s largest scientific publishers Elsevier, analyzed this discrepancy in detail and gave a detailed diagnosis. The low citation rate is caused by a complex of parameters. In particular, the insufficient share of publications in highly rated journals of the first quartile (Q1 - 18.9% with 70% and higher in the leading countries), weak involvement of Russian researchers in international cooperation, often not the most relevant topics of scientific papers, and even not too impressive lists of references in the articles.
All of these reasons can probably be considered a direct consequence of formalism and the pursuit of quantity to the detriment of quality. It is this sad fact, rather than the bias of the publishers, for example, that prevents the increase in credibility. Attention to domestic science is a priori still quite high. Chemist Dmitri Mendeleyev, physiologist Ivan Pavlov, physicist Lev Landau, economist Nikolai Kondratyev and many other outstanding scientists are well remembered in the world. This is probably why the rate of viewing Russian scientific publications is even higher than that of the United States and Great Britain.
They still expect a lot from us and welcome new publications with interest. But, unfortunately, expectations are often deceived. The delta between the levels of views and citations can, perhaps, be taken as an indicator of disappointment. Russia has one of the highest.
The country clearly lacks bright stars in science, which would form the intellectual image of the country and raise the overall academic level. In terms of persons, the criteria for success are still the same. For example, the Hirsch Index (h) for a modern scientist it is like a shoulder straps in the army. The value of h over 150 characterizes a kind of marshals of world science, 90 -150 - generals, and so on. The question is, how can a country count on a high general level of citation, if only one of our compatriots is present in the global top-200 according to the Hirsch index, and he is a former compatriot?
We are talking about biologist Evgeny Kunin. He graduated from the biology department of Moscow State University and worked at the Moscow Institute of Microbiology, but since 1991 he has been working for the US National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Or let's look at the last Russian Nobel laureate today (2010), the creator of graphene, physicist Konstantin Novoselov. Although he remains a citizen of Russia, but in 1999 he moved first to the Netherlands, then to the UK. His alma mater is the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. His starting place of work was the Institute of Microelectronics Technology Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Chernogolovka. But in the Western press he is presented as "Sir Konstantin", referring to the receipt of the title of knight in two European countries at once.
In an interview in July 2019, Novoselov said that in his final years at Phystech, he had not even thought about science yet and devoted most of his time to the then fashionable topic of entrepreneurship. As a result, he became one of the co-owners of a construction company. At some point the business became boring. Novoselov went to postgraduate school, but here, unlike in the development, the domestic “field” did not promise exciting prospects. He had to move to the West.
The general picture of the state of science in the country is made up of such individual fates. The prestige of a scientist has slightly increased in recent years compared to the 1990s but not fundamentally. According to the Higher School of Economics, research is still less desirable for school graduates from the point of view of their parents than working as an architect, designer, financier, engineer, entrepreneur, doctor, lawyer or programmer, although it still is more prestigious than military service, administration, or teaching.
The story with promising scientists in Russia is still about the same as with interesting technological startups. Any scientific person who goes beyond formalism and publications for the sake of rating immediately becomes an object of soft recruitment. It so happens that on our soil the most promising researchers appear only as seedlings, which can qualitatively develop only when transplanted into someone else’s more nutritious soil.
Why is there no favorable environment for scientific research in the new Russia? Could it be because of insufficient funding? This would still be fixable, unpacking the National Wealth Fund, for example. But, unfortunately, it is not about money, at least not about the amount of funding. Of course, Russia (9th place) lags behind the world leaders - the U.S. and China. Their allocations to the industry in 2019 were $582 billion and $468 billion, respectively. Russia’s $44 billion is a drop in the bucket. But China, for all its huge scientific investments, is only slightly ahead of Russia in terms of citations. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, spends a comparable to Russia amount, $54, but is ahead even of the United States in citations, approaching the leaders - Hong Kong and Singapore.
“The Forpost is far from accusing scientists of cosmopolitism. Today’s research environment is highly mobile. Many professors belong to the category of new nomads, flying freely (or rather, before the Covid era) from one university in the world to another. But the “port of call” has nevertheless not been cancelled, at least when it comes to the general scientometric indicators of this or that country.
The problems of citation in Russia are similar to the situation, for example, in India and China. These countries have also dramatically increased their publication activity, but have not achieved frequent citations from their colleagues. What do our countries have in common? The first thing that comes to mind is the status of developing rather than developed countries. It is reflected in the low values of the Human Potential Index (HPI), calculated by the United Nations Organization on the basis of data on living standards, education, and longevity.
The leaders in terms of citation - Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, the Netherlands and Belgium - are among the most developed territories in terms of human potential. Russia, according to the latest HDI study, is ranked 52nd. China, despite its enormous gross domestic product is in 85th place, India is 131st. There is a correlation: the higher the level of welfare, health and education in the country, the more fertile the scientific basis there, and accordingly, the more often serious scientists break through over its surface.
By comparing the PPI and the citation rate of scientific articles, it is possible to predict how the latter indicator will change in the coming years. In Russia, it is likely to fall. For example, because we are the only country where the number of researchers has been steadily decreasing over the past 20 years. We have already lost 182 thousand people.
It can be argued that the country is getting rid of the legacy of the USSR, which has scattered an unreasonably large number of scientific personnel. But if there was an oversupply, it was eliminated long ago. In terms of the ratio of researchers to the total number of people employed in the economy, Russia today lags behind, for example, Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Korea, Taiwan, France, and Japan.
The second fact confirming the disappointing forecast of the falling citation rate is the reduction of the share of commercial companies in the structure of organizations spending money on science and innovations - from 40.2% to 33% since 2010. Business disinterest in high-tech developments does not leave researchers (at least in applied science) a choice: to imitate the boisterous activity in the hope of easy grants, or to move abroad.