Large coverage fluctuations in Google Scholar: a case study

Authors : Alberto Martín-Martín, Emilio Delgado López-Cózar

Unlike other academic bibliographic databases, Google Scholar intentionally operates in a way that does not maintain coverage stability: documents that stop being available to Google Scholar’s crawlers are removed from the system.

This can also affect Google Scholar’s citation graph (citation counts can decrease). Furthermore, because Google Scholar is not transparent about its coverage, the only way to directly observe coverage loss is through regular monitorization of Google Scholar data.

Because of this, few studies have empirically documented this phenomenon. This study analyses a large decrease in coverage of documents in the field of Astronomy and Astrophysics that took place in 2019 and its subsequent recovery, using longitudinal data from previous analyses and a new dataset extracted in 2020.

Documents from most of the larger publishers in the field disappeared from Google Scholar despite continuing to be available on the Web, which suggests an error on Google Scholar’s side. Disappeared documents did not reappear until the following index-wide update, many months after the problem was discovered.

The slowness with which Google Scholar is currently able to resolve indexing errors is a clear limitation of the platform both for literature search and bibliometric use cases.