Scientific ranking: A single punctuation mark has been skewing entire system


EXCERPT: The most fundamental system we have to quantify the importance of scientific research is broken at its core, a new study reveals – and all it took was a single punctuation mark. In a bizarre new finding, researchers have demonstrated that academic papers with hyphens in their titles get counted less in citation-counting databases: a freakish phenomenon that warps the frameworks we use to estimate the impact of published academic work.

"Our results question the common belief by the academia, governments, and funding bodies that citation counts are a reliable measure of the contributions and significance of papers," says computer scientist T.H. Tse from the University of Hong Kong. "In fact, they can be distorted simply by the presence of hyphens in article titles, which has no bearing on the quality of research."

[...] Tse's new discovery shows this entire scientific ranking system is distorted by one weird bug: when researchers use punctuation in the headlines of their articles. Regardless of the quality of academic papers – and how much they are intended to be cited – if they include hyphens in their headlines, they end up getting counted less by the indexing systems.

[...] There's a lot more work to be done before we understand everything this new research signifies and challenges – but it's clear the ways we've been trying to rate and rank science is more flawed than we knew, and big things will have to change if we want our appraisals to get better from here. "As a consequence of this study, we question the reliability of citation statistics and journal impact factors," the authors explain, "because the number of hyphens in paper titles should have no bearing on the actual quality of the respective articles and journals." (MORE - details)

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