This question is not about the politics of scientometrics, nor is it on the role of scientometrics in governmental research programs, nor is it about the use of scientometric indices: these questions have been already addressed and debated somewhere else on academia.SE., for instance

The following question is about scientific method(s).

After these few words to avoid any debate, I would like to naively ask about the scientific rigor of scientometrics. Is there any kind of rigor/general method/scientific concept behind this field of research? Or maybe a more aggressive question: is scientometry a science?

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    This just seems to be an insulting question to anyone in or related to the fields of scientometry.
    – StrongBad
    Jul 26, 2013 at 14:47

1 Answer 1


Scientometrics is a science to the extent that it applies the scientific method to a field of inquiry. Researchers in this area formulate questions and conceptualize existing problems (e.g., “in these times of scarcity, the public wants research to be efficient: how can we measure this?”), they make hypotheses, make predictions, gather data to test them, analyze the data and prove or disprove their hypotheses.

Regarding “what do we scientifically learn from scientometrics?”, well, there are plenty of established results (you can find some on wikipedia), but I'll use one recent paper from Scientometrics which highlights what this field can bring us:

Negative results are disappearing from most disciplines and countries
D. Fanelli, Scientometrics 2012, 90, 891–904

This one was really an eye-opener for me, on a phenomenon which I always supposed existed, but it was nice to see it backed by hard data. Other examples include:

Physical and economic bias in climate change research: a scientometric study of IPCC Third Assessment Report
A. Bjurström and M. Polk, Climatic Change 2011, 108, 1–22


Language biases in the coverage of the Science Citation Index and its consequences for international comparisons of national research performance
T. N. van Leeuwen, H. F. Moed, R. J. W. Tijssen, M. S. Visser, A. F. J. van Raan, Scientometrics 2001, 51, 335–346

I'll finish with a personal opinion: while I am annoyed, as most people, with the emphasis currently given on bibliometrics in the evaluation of research and research projects, I think scientometrics in general has an important role to play, just like related fields such as studies on ethics of research: better understanding the positive and negative implications of the way we currently do science is healthy (the meta-level of research).

  • Thanks a lot for answering this naive question. Thanks also for giving so good examples of applications of scientometrics. Thanks finally for your last remark regarding the difference between bibliometrics and scientometrics. I nevertheless wonder if it exactly answers my question. Your three examples are for sure much more interesting use of the statistical methods than the simple, almost stupid counting of papers I usually heard about in bilbiometrics (h-index, impact factor, ...). Did you really mention that one can make predictions ? Could you please tell me more about that ?
    – FraSchelle
    Jul 26, 2013 at 15:19
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    @F'x +1 for such a nice answer.
    – Shion
    Jul 26, 2013 at 18:48
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    @Oaoa There is a difference between proposal of a metric or any kind of a measurement system and the adoption of one. Adoption of a metric is socio-political in nature and rather subjective.
    – Shion
    Jul 26, 2013 at 18:49
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    when counting predicts nothing, it is instantaneously abandoned. — False. Not all science is predictive, or even claims to be. Also: some true Scotsmen despise haggis.
    – JeffE
    Jul 28, 2013 at 9:16
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    @Oaoa I won't go into a didactic argument with you on the definition of science since JeffE gets at its heart in his previous comment. The wikipedia definition of science you link to is limited. It ignores inductive, data driven compilation of knowledge as opposed to the traditional, deductive, hypothesis driven approach which that definition alludes to.
    – Shion
    Jul 28, 2013 at 17:20

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