From the Inventor of the H-index

My third-year students are busily engaged with a Computational Physics class test so I thought I’d occupy myself for a few minutes by sharing an interesting little paper that appeared on the arXiv a few weeks ago. The paper is by Jorge Hirsch, the inventor of the (in)famous H-index.

Here is the abstract:

A magnetic field H is expelled from the interior of a metal becoming superconducting. Everybody thinks the phenomenon is perfectly well understood, particularly scientists with the highest H-index think that. I don’t. I will explain why I believe that without Holes, conceptualized by Heisenberg in 1931 fifty years after Hall had first detected them in some metals, neither magnetic field expulsion nor anything else about superconductivity can be understood. I have been a Heretic in the field of superconductivity for over 30 years, and believe that Hans’ little story about the emperor perfectly captures the essence of the situation. Here is (a highly condensed version of) the wHole story.

You will see that, despite the liberal sprinkling of letters H, the paper isn’t ostensibly about the H-index, but it does contain some interesting comments thereon, including:

I proposed the H-index hoping it would be an objective measure of scientific achievement. By and large, I think this is believed to be the case. But I have now come to believe that it can also fail spectacularly and have severe unintended negative consequences. I can understand how the sorcerer’s apprentice must have felt.

I think the opinion of a scientist about the value of the H-index roughly speaking divides according to whether a said scientist has a big one or a small one. Those lucky enough to have a high H-index probably think it is fine, while those who have a low value can probably find a reason why it is flawed. My own H-index (42 according to Google Scholar) is mediocre, which I reckon is a fair reflection of my status.

4 Responses to “From the Inventor of the H-index”

  1. I think the opinion of a scientist about the value of the H-index roughly speaking divides according to whether a said scientist has a big one or a small one.

    Isaac Asimov once quipped that the higher one’s IQ, the less one thinks that the concept is valid—and vice versa.

    As to the H-index itself, it is better than counting numbers of papers (it’s possible to have a huge number of non-cited papers) or number of citations (which can be dominated by one highly cited paper a long time ago—even leaving aside the question of how to distribute citation credit among more than one author of a paper). However, it can be improved by the g-ndex: one has a g-index of g if one has g papers which have on average g citations (or, equivalently, in total g**2 citations). Of course, all of this stands and falls with the concept of bibliometry as a concept.

  2. I think you have done pretty well – regardless of whether your h index shows so or not. Mediocre is not the right word, I think.

  3. Paul Stevenson Says:

    Just before reading your post, I read the latest post in Shtetl-Optimized, a blog about quantum computing. On the h-index, the author said ‘Alas, Goodhart’s Law states that “as soon as a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”’ which is at least a nice soundbite, and probably has some truth to it for things like h-index, school league tables, etc.

  4. stallphill Says:

    Regrettably, aspects of success metrics are the norm. In a way, Lee Smolin hits on this in his book “The Trouble With Physics”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: