What is the value of a paper? a citation?

At the RSC meeting I asked “what is the value of a paper in journal X?” where the metasyntactic variable X represents a prestigious organ. Not the cost. This is hard to determine as publishers despite their name do not often publish costs. Nor the price. Not surprisingly this may be difficult to relate to the cost. The value. The amount by which an individual, or an organization estimates that they would benefit. “I am Y USD better off because I have n papers in X”. Career progression involves money. Funding involves money. Universities need money to run. This money is increasingly steered by what jourbals are used for publication.
I was reading a paper pointed to by Peter Suber’s blog: Michael Taylor, Pandelis Perakakis, and Varvara Trachana, The siege of science. It;s “Open Access” so I’m gong to quote from it. The abstract (skip if you’ve read PeterS’s blog) sets the scene:

Science is in a state of siege. The traditional stage for scientific ideas through peerreviewed academic journals has been hijacked by an overpriced journal monopoly. After a wave of mergers and take-overs, big business publishing houses now exercise economic control over access to knowledge and free scientific discourse. Their ‘all is number’ rationale, made possible and perpetuated by single-parameter bibliometric indices like the Impact Factor and the h-index has led to a measurement of scientists, science and science communication with quality being reduced to quantity and with careers hanging in the balance of column totals. Other multi-parameter indices like the subscription-based Index Copernicus have not helped to resolve the situation. The patented and undisclosed black box algorithm of the Index Copernicus has just replaced one yardstick by another even less accessible one. Moreover, the academic as author, editor and/or reviewer, under intense competitive pressure, is forced to play the publishing game where such numbers rule, leading to frequent abuses of power. However, there are also deep paradoxes at the heart of this siege. Electronic software for producing camera-ready-copy, LaTeX style files, the internet and technology mean that
it has never been easier or cheaper to publish than it is today. Despite this, top journals are charging exorbitant prices for authors to publish and for readers to access their articles. Academic libraries are feeling the pinch the most and are being forced to cut journal subscriptions. Not surprisingly, scholars in droves are declaring their independence from commercial publishers and are moving to open access journals or are self-archiving their articles in public domain pre-print servers. That this movement is starting to hurt the big publishing houses is evidenced by their use of counter-tactics such as proprietary pre-print servers and pure propaganda in their attempts to guard against profit loss. Whether or not bibliometry will be an artefact in the future depends on the outcome of this battle. Here, we review the current status of this siege, how it arose and how it is likely to evolve.

PMR: It’s not a rant as there is a lot of supporting material though it’s arguing the case for OA. It’s got useful coverage of some of the historic battles between publishers are individuals or organisations and those should be required reading for those who want to criticize publishers – know your enemy. But among the Zipf’s law and other supporting data I found:

The dollar value of a citation In today’s very highly competitive academic environment, it is clear that not only do you have to publish in journals with high JIFs to get funding, but your articles also need to be highly cited to have an impact. Citations then, clearly translate into cash. In 1986, before the big wave of self-archiving and the adoption of the green road to OA, it was shown that the marginal dollar value of a citation to articles printed by commercial journals in the USA was estimated to be between US$ 50 and 1300 depending on the field (Diamond 1986). Scaling this up by 170% to account for inflation in the period 1986 to 2005, then the dollar value of a citation has risen to approximately US$ 90 to 2200. Although these figures may be surprising in themselves, their cumulative effect when taken in the context of world-wide or national research is astounding. For example, the UK research councils spend £ 3.5 billion annually, which results in an average of 130 000 journal articles being published per year (ISI figures) with an average citation rate of 5.6. This corresponds to 761 000 citations. Self-archiving increases citation impact by 50 to 250% but, so far, only 15% of researchers are spontaneously self-archiving their articles (Harnad et al. 2004). Taking the lower estimate, we find that the loss of potential research impact due to the 85% of authors not self-archiving in the UK is 50 × 80% × £ 3.5 billion = £ 1.5 billion. Hence, it is possible to argue that the green road to OA is a source of wealth creation.

PMR: I think this means value to the journals. IOW if an article is cited then the journal benefits by 90 USD to 2000 USD. Please tell me if I have got this wrong. But that’s just the value to the journal, large though it may be. The value to the institution may be even larger. There is a gearing between publication and research income which could be as much as 50. If the Wellcome trust values publications at 1-2% of a research grant then the cost of the research is – very crudely – 50 times more than the cost of the publication. Now it’s difficult to know what the absolute value of the research is – it might be more or less than the cost, but for an institution that’s real money, however valuable or not the research.
So I took a snap poll of 2-3 colleagues about what the value of a research paper was. A well-known metasyntactic journal asked me if I would publish this figure (“PMR thinks a paper in X is worth Y”). Given the enormous amounts of money riding on it, I think I’d better not, and leave it to an economist.
Unless, of course, metasyntactic journal X wishes to fund me to do a – completely objective – study.

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One Response to What is the value of a paper? a citation?

  1. Thanks for the pointer to the Siege of Science article.
    If my memory serves, I think the original ($50-1300 1986 dollars) estimate was of benefit to the first author, in terms of salary increase for a first citation.
    The original study, Diamond AM Jr. (1986) What is a Citation Worth? The Journal of Human Resources 21: 200–215. is online here. It’s a neat read.

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