Thursday, November 26, 2015

Hurray! The quality of my article just increased

One way of measuring the quality of research and development projects are through "impact factor" (that is, how many references do an article get). Therefore, I'm always happy when I get an email alerting me that someone has referenced one of my articles - because that means that the quality of my article has increased one notch.

A few days ago, for instance, I got an email from Google Scholar telling me that my eminent article "Teachers' conceptions of history of mathematics" had been referenced by the scholar Suphi Önder Bütüner in the article "Impact of Using History of Mathematics on Students’ Mathematics Success: A Meta-Analysis Study". It is nice to be referenced, especially in the rare event that it's not me or a close colleague who is the author of the referencing article. (Although maybe the author and I had a colleague in common.)

So which of my words of wisdom was picked up by Bütüner, thereby proving the quality of my research? The article is, as the title suggests, a meta-analysis, and - to make a short story short - it turns out that Bütüner has read my article and concluded that my article is about history of mathematics but is not focusing on the pupils and their learning of mathematics. Therefore, my article is mentioned in a list of articles that are relevant to the field of study as a whole, but not to the specific problem that Bütüner wants to investigate. Therefore, my article is mentioned as one of the article not useful for the analysis.

Nonetheless, the quality of my article is higher than one week ago. In other cases, I have seen references to my work, but the researchers have cited me as saying something that I was quite unable to understand how the researchers could possibly think I was saying. Thus, the quality of my article (as measured by impact factor) have increased, even though it is patently impossible to understand what point I was trying to make.

Let me end by pointing out that the fact that impact factor is a quite imperfect way of measuring scientific quality, does not suggest that the system of counting articles used in Norway (with different points given based on the journals published in) is better. (As it happens, different articles in the same journal have an annoying tendency not to be of exactly the same scientific quality.)

(This blog post is a translation of a post in my Norwegian blog.)