Alesia Zuccala measures research impact and she takes a special interest in bridging bibliometrics with cultural studies. From June 2014 she started as assistant professor at IVA in Copenhagen. Insight IVA met her for an interview.
What are your primary research areas?
For quite a period of time I have been engaged in research output and the impact it has in the scholarly community and also alternative ways of measuring impact on society. In the field of bibliometrics, scholars measure the impact of everything from journal articles to books to conference proceedings and also the citations within these types of documents. I am also involved with research evaluation as a whole which focuses on specific fields and the differences between fields and cultures of communication, for example humanities versus the sciences and social sciences. Journals are predominant in sciences and social sciences and, in the humanities scholars primarily publish books.
Understanding different research cultures
If you are going to apply bibliometric methods to evaluate scholarly output you have to know and understand different aspects of the research culture under analysis. I have studied a variety of different research cultures, but within the last two years I have focused mostly on evaluating the humanities. The problem for us is that we have limited types of commercial datasets to work with, such as Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science, and Elsevier’s Scopus. Humanistic scholars do not produce as many journal articles as other scholars in, medicine, chemistry, biology and we see for instance in medical journals that the intensity of collaboration (or co-authorship) is very high. Bibliometric analyses were established to evaluate journals, using journal impact factors, but this particular measure is not always appropriate for the humanities. We have to find more appropriate ways of understanding the humanities and what constitutes impact both from a societal and scholarly view. And how do we measure quality in the humanities? And what would motivate humanitistic scholars to publish a book versus several articles in journals? There is much to think about also in terms of open access, and the production of digital short form books etc. These are some of the issues that I am focusing on.
Global versus local
I have been conducting research more on a global scale primarily because it is easier to focus on areas where I can make use of commercial indexes. I am an international researcher and my research depends on what I can gather. Much of it is of course in English, and it is more difficult for me to evaluate a specific culture if I do not know the language. But in Web of Science they have lists of publications which enables me to measure for example how much content is in Danish. Of course this can only be a quantitative perspective and it does not mean that I am able to understand what motivates a Danish historian. Many historians have a high impact in a specific culture but they are not publishing in English and that is another difficulty with evaluating humanities
The right mix
Humanistic studies are about human achievements and that is cultural. The question is how and to what degree should the humanistic scholar be encouraged to publish in another language other than his or her own and how often are books translated into English for global consumption?
If you are engaged in quantitative evaluations you often make use of commercial databases. But right now universities and collected institutions are being encouraged to establish institutional and/or national repositories, so I know that I do not have to rely entirely on commercial indexes if I have to evaluate outputs, for example, from a university in Denmark. I try to coordinate what makes most sense, and make a mix between using commercial indexes and repositories. But you need to have international benchmarks and you need to use both types of resources and there are limitations to both.
An invisible college of researchers
It is not easy to obtain funding to evaluate research output in the humanities. I have prepared many applications to various funding bodies, but it is difficult to convince stakeholders to finance the use of bibliometrics in humanities-oriented research evaluations. I belong to a consortium of scholars in Europe who are focused on assessing the humanities and our research is considered to be at the top of the agenda. It is important for humanists to understand that bibliometricians do not necessarily advocate that the quantitative methods are always the best. It is just a way of looking at things. I would like to bridge bibliometrics with cultural studies. For my PhD thesis I carried out a cultural study of a group of mathematicians. I followed their publication patterns but also their culture and how they build an invisible college of international mathematicians engaged in the same type of research.