Note to readers: This is one of a series of posts discussing changes in public administration and their impact on public policy. Each post has a full list of posts at the end. You may care to start at the introductory post and then follow through.
In my last post in this series I spoke of the rise of measurement as an all pervasive mechanism affecting all aspects of life including public administration and public policy.
In this context, one of the things that I was musing about was the changing position of academia, an area that I have known very well over a long period starting as a child in an academic household. This is an area where measurement has become pervasive and indeed arguably even perverse.
To try to provide a measure of this (I, too, like measurement!), one of the first things that I thought of were citation indexes.
In the words of the University of Southern Queensland Library:
Citation indexes can be useful. Again to quote the USQ Library:
Citation Indexes are compilations of all the cited references from particular groups of journal articles published during a particular year or group of years. In a citation index, you look up a reference to a work that you know to find journal articles that have cited it, although you can also search by concepts and authors. Cited reference searching is a fast and efficient way of finding journal articles that relate to your research.
That is true, but as anybody in management knows, what you measure is what you get. So treating citations as a performance measure means that those being measured have an incentive to maximise citation performance. Here I was interested in the history of citation indexes as a way of assessing impact. To quote Thompson Scientific:
While most users think of indexes as merely a means of recovering information, index compilers have long been aware that indexes--especially those for scientific literature--serve a vastly more important and often unstated purpose. That is, they reveal connections between ideas or concepts that were not considered before.
If we look at this history, we can see that the rise of the citation index paralleled the rise of interest in measurement, going on-line in the seventies as the new computing and communications technologies became available.
While the first proposal for the SCI (Science Citation Index) was made in 1955, it was in the 1960s that ISI (Institute For Scientific Information) applied for and received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to create a Genetics Citation Index. As a result of this multidisciplinary project, we published the first SCI (covering the 1961 literature) in 1963. We then went on to launch a quarterly service that eventually proved successful. Since then we have indexed the literature back to 1945 and now the CD-ROM version of SCI is updated monthly and the online and magnetic tape versions are updated weekly.
In 1973, we made SSCI available. It now covers the social sciences literature back to 1956. The index deals with topics such as anthropology, economics, sociology, educational research, and information sciences among other fields. A&HCI was introduced in 1978. A&HCI provides access to disciplines as varied as archaeology, linguistics, philosophy, musicology, literature, and others in the arts and humanities.
Advances in modes of access have also been made over the years. In 1974, the SCI became one of the first large-scale databases available online via DIALOG. Other ISI databases followed. In 1988, SCI (and later SSCI and A&HCI) became available on CD-ROM. This new technology and increased data storage capabilities enabled us to implement a variety of access and browse features unique to our citation-based searching. Enhancing the power of citation searching through bibliographic coupling, you can navigate the literature by exploring papers that share one or more references.
By the time I became CEO of the Royal Australian (now Australian and New Zealand) College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) at the end of 1997 the citation system was very well entrenched. At the time we were worried that the College's scientific journal, the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Ophthalmology, was dropping down the citation list. The journal really needed to be in the top ten globally to attract the required level of scientific and clinical articles, so under the leadership of the editorial team the journal was renamed Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology and effectively relaunched to achieve the required citation level.
This material does provide a guide as to the history of citation indexes and some indication asto their impact, but more is required. So I decided to look at the term publish or perish, now a very common term in academia.
While I found many references, it proved very hard to trace the origin of the term. The only on-line dictionary reference I could find (Source) suggested a mid nineties date. I knew that this could not be right because I was using the term in the eighties, so I continued searching. Finally I found an article by Eugene Garfield, What Is The Primordial Reference For The Phrase 'Publish Or Perish'? (The Scientist, Vol:10, #12, p.11 , June 10, 1996.)
Eugene's work traced the term to at least a 1942 book by Logan Wilson with the same connotations as today. So the term has been around for a while at least in the US. But we can also be reasonably sure of is that the term was not common in the sixties since I did not hear reference to it, but was being referred to in the eighties. So like citation indexes, its rise does parallel the rise of the measurement movement.
Copyright and Citation Details
The material is this series is copyright Jim Belshaw. However, it may be copied or quoted with due acknowledgment.
The following should be used for citation purposes if referring to the overall series: Jim Belshaw, Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on the Development of Public Policy, Ndarala Group, 2007 with a link to the introductory post.
If citing this post, Jim Belshaw, "Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on the Development of Public Policy 3 - Public or Perish Case Study", in Jim Belshaw, Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on the Development of Public Policy, Ndarala Group, 2007 with a link to this post.