Researchers’ attitudes towards the h-index on Twitter 2007–2020: criticism and acceptance

Authors : Mike Thelwall, Kayvan Kousha

The h-index is an indicator of the scientific impact of an academic publishing career. Its hybrid publishing/citation nature and inherent bias against younger researchers, women, people in low resourced countries, and those not prioritizing publishing arguably give it little value for most formal and informal research evaluations.

Nevertheless, it is well-known by academics, used in some promotion decisions, and is prominent in bibliometric databases, such as Google Scholar. In the context of this apparent conflict, it is important to understand researchers’ attitudes towards the h-index.

This article used public tweets in English to analyse how scholars discuss the h-index in public: is it mentioned, are tweets about it positive or negative, and has interest decreased since its shortcomings were exposed?

The January 2021 Twitter Academic Research initiative was harnessed to download all English tweets mentioning the h-index from the 2006 start of Twitter until the end of 2020. The results showed a constantly increasing number of tweets.

Whilst the most popular tweets unapologetically used the h-index as an indicator of research performance, 28.5% of tweets were critical of its simplistic nature and others joked about it (8%). The results suggest that interest in the h-index is still increasing online despite scientists willing to evaluate the h-index in public tending to be critical.

Nevertheless, in limited situations it may be effective at succinctly conveying the message that a researcher has had a successful publishing career.