In an editorial on the topic of Sci-Hub, Marcia McNutt (Editor-in-Chief of Science Journals) lists a few reasons why Sci-Hub may be bad for scientists. One of the drawbacks she lists is (emphasis mine):

Authors do not benefit from download statistics, for example, which are increasingly being used to assess the impact of their work.

This surprised me, as I have never come across any mention of download statistics being used to measure the impact of papers / scientists. Are download statistics really being used in any meaningful way when assessing the impact of scientists?

I'm also asking because sites like ArXiv does not provide download statistics, and neither do other secondary publication servers (university paper repositories, private homepages, ...), which would hurt the impact rating the same way.

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    Sounds like journals are running out of arguments to defend their paywalls. – Franck Dernoncourt May 28 '16 at 12:19
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    The thing is also that most download statistics are quite utterly useless, at it also counts search engines crawlers and downloads by non-scientific people. Also, you don't want to put this information on your own CV, as it is extremely easy to manipulate. And if you can't use it on your own CV, it is not very useful in a portofio of "impact measuring" tools. – DCTLib May 28 '16 at 12:29

The argument is a ludicrous one, defending a parasitic system that should have been buried a long time ago, and written by an individual with a blatant conflict of interest.

In theory there exist some attempts to measure scientific impact from download data. Example.

In practice, nobody cares, partly due to the fact that there are many ways to get an article without incrementing the counter. (and also because we already have enough stupid metrics).

  • I figured as much, but wanted to give the argument the benefit of the doubt. Thanks for confirming my suspicion. – malexmave May 28 '16 at 12:35

As @Franck notes, people can access a publication without incrementing an official journal counter. These include: (a) pre-print server, (b) personal website, (c) institutional repositories, (d) sites like ResearchGate, and (e) indexing services that provide paid and independent full-text access such as EBSCOHost. Sci-hub simply adds one more source where download statistics are not linked to the original publisher.

So, any estimate from the journal will be an underestimate of total downloads. Adding one more source is not going to make much difference. And more generally, it should have a fairly uniform effect. In general, you are likely to interpret download statistics "normatively". I.e., To what extent is an article getting more downloads per year than a typical article? A general downward factor on official downloads does not prevent such normative statistics. There's also another reason why normative interpretation is key. The definition of a download itself is poorly defined. I.e., does it include people who scroll the full html listing? what about a person who downloads the same article more than once? What about indexing services? etc.

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