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Google Scholar: The Pros and Cons for Maritime Scholars

Mainstream academia, particularly the sciences, rely heavily on publication “impact factor.” Will that work for academics in the maritime sector?

One tool for measuring how important an article has been to the extension of academic knowledge is the impact factor. There are different methods for calculating impact, but most involve measuring the number of times a work is cited in the works of others, and where. Journal impact is measured as well as that of authors. Thus, an author typically gets a higher impact ranking for having published in higher impact journals.

Until a few years ago, the ability to measure scholarly impact required a subscription to data services like Scopus or Web of Knowledge. These services still represent the gold standard of impact measurement, especially in the scientific community, but with the advent of Google Scholar, authors can see how their works measure up without having to pay for the privilege.  Furthermore, because Google is less restrictive in the publications it includes, academic researchers outside the hard sciences have a better chance of getting a score, or scoring higher, than they would in the commercial ranking services. Anyone can sign up, search for citations, and add them to their Scholar profile. Google does the rest, adding the number of times cited, links to the citations, the h-index, the i10-index, and even a bar graph of each year the author’s works have been cited.

Publications that do not show up in search results can be added manually, although such entries will have no impact until they start showing up in Google Scholar searches and have been linked to other works. Google’s manual forms allow users to enter data for books, chapters, articles, conference proceedings, patents, and “other.” There are no fields for standard publication numbers, such as an article’s document object identifier (DOI), a periodical’s international standard series number (ISSN),  or the international standard book number (ISBN). What this likely means is that, without this precise identification number, a publication that had to be entered manually will never be linked to an impact factor. If and when the citation shows up in Google Scholar, the author will have to add the citation from Google to his or her profile, and delete the manually added entry that it supersedes.

For maritime academics there are two particular drawbacks with Google Scholar. The first is that, because the maritime sector is so small, impact is almost by definition exceedingly limited. A Venn diagram of publications having to do with maritime affairs and the entire world of academic publishing could be represented as a pencil dot within a giant circle several pages in diameter. A better measurement would be the impact within the maritime sector. This leads to the second problem, namely, the lack of standardized metadata in maritime publications that would facilitate the cross-referencing needed to determine a given work’s relevance to other works. Without standards-based formatting for author names, publishers, volumes, editions, etc., upon which computer algorithms can act, even a long and respectable list of published articles and papers would produce an impact factor of zero.

We should also note that Google’s format limitations do not account for numerous other contributions that faculty can make to maritime knowledge. For example, a conference presentation that results in international policy changes might never have reached the stage of published proceedings, or at least not with a high impact, brand name publisher. There is no form to fill out for presentations, only papers in published proceedings. Likewise, there is no place to enter grant projects, consultancies, and guest lectures. These activities and accomplishments can make for an impressive Curriculum Vitae that, in the maritime world, could easily outweigh the impact of a publication list with a moderate h-index.

Certainly, wherever it is appropriate, maritime faculty should be encouraged to sign up for Google Scholar and add their citations. But they should keep in mind that it is not intended to be an online version of their complete CV. And administrators in maritime academics should also keep in mind that it is not a complete measure of impact in the maritime world. Martin Stopford, whose Maritime Economic is likely the most widely used text on the subject, has a Google h-index factor of 7, which is less than 20% of the impact of an oceanographer with a career of publishing in respected scientific journals. Both authors are highly regarded in their areas of expertise, but the one with the lower impact factor in Google Scholar would almost assuredly be judged to have the higher impact among the community of academics dedicated to safe, secure, efficient shipping on clean oceans.